Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whale watching with the Laguna Sea Dwellers and the Ocean Institute

On Saturday, I met up with the Laguna Sea Dwellers to go whale watching with the Ocean Institute out of Dana Point. They were a very nice and welcoming group, even though I wasn't a member of the dive club. We were on the Sea Explorer, a well equipped boat for whale watching. On our way out, we stopped to play with a small pod of bottlenose dolphins (tursiops truncatus). A few came right under the boat:

and another leaped out of the water, coming back to land with a large splash (click on the image for larger versions):

Next, we found a large pod of Risso's dolphins (grampus griseus), which are the largest dolphins found off of California. As they age, they acquire more and more scars, so the oldest dolphins are almost white. This pod was relatively young, with many baby dolphins.

Our time with the large pod of Risso's was cut shut, when the captain heard that a gray whale was spotted closer to shore. We caught up with a small armada of other boats that were following a single gray whale (eschrichtius robustus). The first sight you see is the brief surfacing and spout of moist air as the whale exhales:

This whale was about 30 ft long. The whale breaths about 3 times before going for a deep dive and typically stays under between 5 and 6 minutes. On the last breath before the deep dive, its fluke would sometimes come out of the water, in order to give a big push downward.

During this time period, the various boats would jockey for position, trying to predict where the whale would surface next, yet keeping a distance in order to not disturb it's migration south. As the 5 minute mark approached, everyone on the boat would start scanning the horizon to spot the first breath. After about 5 diving/surfacings, it was time to head back to the docks.

Location of the Ocean Institute at Dana Point Harbor:

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More photos are up at:


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sunrise at Batiquitos Lagoon

I got up early this morning and caught the sunrise before heading north for a whale watching excursion. I've had this spot stuck in my head for sunrise/sunset for a couple of weeks and today was the day to try it out. Unfortunately, the clouds lit up to the west of where I was shooting, rather than to the east. With my back to the freeway, I tried to capture the silhouettes of the trees and hills, with the thin layer of fog over the water.

Here's a map of where I was standing (green arrow):

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Sunset at the Oceanside Harbor Jetty

We had a nice range of cloud types covering the sky today. Near the end of the day, it was looking a bit hazy, but I took a chance that the sun would pop through the clouds for sunset. I wanted to try a new spot and had some time to explore, so I headed down to Oceanside, past the pier to the harbor.

It turns out there's some nice restaurants and large parking lots along the beach and adjacent to the harbor. The only down side is that parking is a minimum of $5 at the beach. On the other hand, they have overnight parking/camping for $10/night.

Fortunately, there was a break in the clouds near the horizon, so the sun lit up the underside of the clouds nicely. To get this shot, I ventured out on the jetty, past the groups of people fishing and climbed down, closer to the water's edge. After the sun had set, I timed the shot to get a wave crashing against the jetty.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cuyamaca Mountains

On Sunday morning, I got up early and took a drive past Julian to Lake Cuyamaca. I had heard that large crowds were turned away from the Sunrise Highway to Mt. Laguna the day before, so I planned on arriving early and hiking to the Green Valley Falls.

I stopped for a sunrise photo in San Pasqual Valley, seeing the fog transposed against the clear sky and realizing I wasn't going to make it to the mountains before the sun was up.

When I drove past Julian, I could see snow blanketing the surrounding mountainsides. I stopped for a few pictures at Inspiration Point (on the 79), meeting a nice couple that lived near Julian. Continuing along the 79, I found Sunrise Highway was still closed. At the Lake Cuyamaca store, the park office that sells parking permits didn't open until 10 am, including the Chambers Park. As a result, I was either going to have to shoot at the lake later in the day or skip Lake Cuyamaca altogether. I continued south on the 79, heading for Green Valley Falls campground.

I almost got stuck in a small turnout packed with snow. I got to try out all the features of my 4x4 and finally managed to get out by going forward, further into the snow. In California, I don't get much practice driving in deep snow.

I finally arrived at the Green Valley Campground, only to find out they were closed for the winter, due to California's budget cuts. It also meant there was no parking near the Green Valley Falls. I drove back to the nearest parking area, about 3/4 of a mile away and decided to hike a connecting trail back to the closed campground.

The deserted Green Valley Falls campground was eerie and after slipping on ice on the roadway, I decided I needed to be more careful. I finally found the trail to the Green Valley falls on the opposite end of the campground, where it was just a short 1/2 mile hike down a hill. There were about 3 different levels of falls. I spent the most time at the upper falls, crouched precariously on a smooth rock in the middle of the river. My boots were damp and muddy and the water was icy cold. I then hiked down river to the next two sets of falls, stopping to take pictures as I went.

When I arrived back at the parking area, it was wall to wall packed with cars. Large crowds were playing in the snow in the open area near the parking. Cars were also bumper to bumper heading north towards Lake Cuyamaca, the closed Sunrise Highway and my way home. I decided to head south towards the 8 freeway and take the long way home.

Here's a map of where the parking area and Green Valley Falls are located:

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More photos are up at:


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Storm day 5 - La Jolla Cove

This wave is another reason for why we're not diving (again) this weekend. This photo was taken at La Jolla Cove.

On my way down to La Jolla on Friday, I was rear ended on the freeway. Fortunately, it was nothing serious, but not a nice way to start a Friday. After calling my insurance and all of the other little details, I was on my way again.

The storm was nearing its end on Friday, so the rain was intermittent. However, each time I'd find a place to park and get out to take pictures, within 10 minutes it would start pouring again. Also, the waves were not crashing as cleanly against the shore as I had hoped. At the Childrens Pool wall, the wave energy was mostly lost by the time it hit the wall.

A few more pictures are up at:


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Storm day 4 - Oceanside Pier in the morning

With predictions of 20-25 foot surf, I headed down to the Oceanside Pier. A fortunate break in the rain and wind allowed me to get out onto the pier with my camera. Unfortunately, the waves were not as large as I'd hoped. They didn't seem much bigger than 10-15 ft, similar to last week's large surf.

Even though they weren't giant, there were some nicely formed waves breaking alongside the pier.

After about 45 minutes of shooting waves and surfers, the wind suddenly picked up. One of the other photographers on the pier commented that 'this surf session is over'. Within a couple of minutes, the rain started to come down hard and the surfers caught the next waves in.

More pictures of the waves plus a few surfers at:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Storm day 2 - Seal Beach Pier

On the second day (Tuesday) of the big storm that hit California, I decided to head down to the Seal Beach Pier for sunset after the main band of rain had passed. Earlier that day, a tornado struck about 2 miles from the pier, flipping an SUV and tossing some boats in the marina.

The clouds opened up for the sunset and were mostly gathered against Mt. Wilson to the east. A large number of people gathered at the beach to check out the storm surge and wind.

I would not enjoy being out on the oil rig or one of the other cargo ships in the Long Beach harbor. The waves were pounding from the south west, into an area that is usually protected from the westward wind and waves.

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More photos at:


Sunset at Hermosa Terrace in La Jolla

On Saturday, I managed to get down to La Jolla for the sunset. The clouds were looking really good, with the high pressure system starting to break down, but not yet gone. I really wanted to get out before the big storms hit Southern California.

While driving down the coast road in La Jolla past Windansea, I saw a large exposed reef at Hermosa Terrace Park and thought that it might make for a good shot.

There was a guy way out on the reef in rubber boots. He warned me that the tide was lowest at 4 pm and was starting to come back in. The water level was only going to get higher. I decided to see how far out I could get, jumping from one reef to another to get out most of the way.

As the sun was setting, I was shooting, knowing the tide was coming back in. As I'm shooting, parts of the reef in my composition are disappearing. The nice smooth reflection in a pool of water turns into a rippled, flowing stream. At the time, I remember thinking - "I'll figure out how to get back to the beach later" and "I'm sure it will be worth it for the shot".

After the sun set and the water level continued rising, I decide to start heading back towards shore, only to find my path across is now underwater. I realize that I can't jump across the water and that I'm going to have to get a little wet. As I'm packing the camera into my backpack, the tide continues to come in further and the water level is rising.

I ended up with one foot soaked in cold sea water, but made it back to the beach. From there I took some more pictures. The irony is that in the end, I didn't really like any of the pictures I had taken far out on the reef, except for this one well before the sun had set and the tide had come in:

More pictures are up at:


Friday, January 15, 2010

Large surf at the Oceanside Pier

This week, we were forecast to have 10-15 ft swells coming in from the North. I stopped by the Oceanside Pier Thursday morning, expecting to see either epic surf or the pier being washed out. Turns out, the pier is pretty sturdy and it would probably take 20+ ft waves to damage it. From the pier, I had a great vantage point on the waves and surfers. Every couple of minutes, a set of three or four ~10 ft waves would come in. The surfers would all make an attempt to catch them and oohs and ahhs would erupt from the small crowd on the pier watching.

I went back Friday morning and the surf was a bit smaller, but still nicely formed with the santa ana winds blowing off the beach. They were still big enough for surfers to get a bit of air coming off them.

The pier provides an interesting view point, where the surfers are going past. It allows for different angles than you can get from the beach or a breakwater.

I've been wanting a nice classic tube shot that I could crop and use. I got one that I'm pretty happy with - it's at the bottom of the page. More photos at:


Monday, January 11, 2010

Sunset and large surf near Hermosa Terrace Park in La Jolla

All day Sunday, the high altitude cirrus clouds were making interesting patterns in the sky, from repeated scallop patterns to a partial rainbow halo around the sun. We decided to head south to La Jolla, past Windansea where there were large crowds gathered to watch the surfers take on the large waves. In a residential area south of Windansea, we found a small path that led down to some relatively private bluffs overlooking the water.

Epic surf and high tide combined to make this sunset special. I was perched on a bluff, about 5 feet above the roiling water. Every once in a while, a large set would come in and I would have to grab the camera and jump to higher ground. Many locals had gathered higher up on the bluff for the nightly ritual of watching the sunset. Some surfers were still off in the distance, catching waves far offshore. I definitely want to come back to this location at low tide and catch another sunset.

Here is a Google map of where we were at:

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunrise and surf at the Oceanside Pier

The day started off with a nice sunset. There weren't as many clouds in the sky as I had hoped, but enough to light up a little bit. There were only a couple of surfers there before dawn, so I was fortunate that they were surfing on the sunrise side of the pier. I think the waves were actually better on the other side, which the bait shop owner yelled to them, but they seemed content to surf where they were at.

The offshore santa ana winds combined with the large surf made for spectacular streams of spray coming off the waves.

This is a view looking south towards the Encino power plant in Carlsbad.

There was a friendly local California Brown pelican who guarded the bait shop on the Oceanside Pier. Some visitors to the pier tried to take their picture with the pelican, but he wasn't friendly enough for group shots and used his beak to snap at them when they got too close.

Later in the morning, there were many surfers out and even a few other photographers. For more wave and surf shots, go to the complete photo album at:


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Boston in December

Over the holidays, we went to Massachusetts to visit family. During the trip, we took a bus into Boston and spent saw various parts of the city. My favorite place in Boston was the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge. It's a new, modern cable bridge that was built as part of the "Big Dig".

I was hoping to create a panoramic of the Boston skyline at night. This was the closest I got, taken from the top of the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775) monument, on top of Breed's Hill. It is a 221 foot (67 m) granite obelisk built between 1827 and 1843 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. There are 294 steps to the top. This panoramic was taken through a window at the top of the monument.

More photos from Boston at:


Friday, January 8, 2010

First post!

A couple exploring the tide pools decided to stand right in front of where I was photographing, so I decided to make them part of the picture.  I'm not sure if they were collecting creatures, but they each had a small bucket.  I'm curious how they would have reacted if I'd asked them to pose.  I was annoyed at first, given the amount of reef nearby they could have walked to, but this one ended up being one of my favorite shots of the evening.

I thought I'd start out my first blog post with one of my most recent images.   I haven't been diving since 12/20/09, so I've been taking a lot of landscape/nature photographs.

The clouds had been nice, wispy cirrus clouds all day and there was a good chance of a nice sunset. However, as it got late in the day, the clouds along the coast began to fill in. I wasn't sure whether it was worth the 6 mile drive to the coast. With only 1/2 hour before sundown, I decided to head down to the closest beach. I hadn't photographed the sunset at the south Carlsbad State Beach before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew there were some nice sandstone bluffs, but wasn't sure if there was much else. As I approached the beach, I could see the sun peaking through at the horizon. I also noticed that there was no parking, in an area where normally only winter surfers park.

After finally finding a parking spot, I hurried down to the beach. To my pleasant surprise (because I'd forgotten the surf report), the tide was very low and a lot of reef was exposed. There were crowds of people out on the reefs exploring the tide pools. I had to stake out a small patch of exposed reef a little ways down the beach from the crowd as the sun was starting to set.

A couple exploring the tide pools decided to stand right in front of where I was photographing, so I decided to make them part of the picture. I'm not sure if they were collecting creatures, but they each had a small bucket. I'm curious how they would have reacted if I'd asked them to pose. I was annoyed at first, given the amount of reef nearby they could have walked to, but this one ended up being one of my favorite shots of the evening.

Other sunset photos are located at: