I’m making an effort to do some more traveling over the weekends this quarter, after all, there are lots of exciting places nearby that I can explore. This is a bit of a random collection of recent adventures, but I’m afraid that if I split it up I’ll get too far behind, so after this you should be all caught up with my adventures!

The Monarchs

Every winter thousands upon thousands of Monarch butterflies come to the coast of Southern California and Northern Mexico to roost over the winter. They particularly seem to like the eucalyptus trees along the California Coast, and one of the best places to see them is next to Pismo Beach (about an hour north of Santa Barbara). About two weeks ago I made the trip up there with two friends to check out the butterflies, and test out my new camera (the Canon 5D mkII). Yes, I got myself a new camera, and so far, it has been completely worth it! We got the butterfly area about an hour before sunset. There was a big group of butterflies hanging out relatively low to the ground (about 15 feet up), which made it possible to get some good views of them.

“The Monarchs” ~ Pismo Beach, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 500mm f/4 L IS, 1.4x tc, tripod/sidekick
Exposure: iso 3200, f/5.6, 1/60th second
Processing: I used some ‘Orton’ processing on this one to bring out the feeling of movement and glow of these butterflies.
Notes: I needed to go up to a very high iso to at least freeze some of the motion of the butterflies, but with the new camera, that proved to be at very little cost to the image quality – truly outstanding high iso capabilities!

According to the Pismo Beach butterfly caretakers, there were about 26,000 of them there at the time! If you’re looking to get out to see them yourself, you don’t have long for this year, but check out the places mentioned in this guide.

Land of Boulders

Last weekend I made the trip to Joshua Tree National Park, just about a 2.5 hour drive from home (if there’s no traffic…). The forecast was for sunny blue skies, but I had two shots in mind that could use that normally boring light. My main interest in Joshua Tree isn’t necessarily the Joshua Trees – which are pretty strange indeed – but rather the awesome boulder formations. There’s weird smooth and cracked rocks everywhere, but some of the more interesting ones are by the Jumbo Rocks area. The granite here has been eroded into some really neat round shapes, occasionally leaving near perfect marbles in place.

“The Marbles” ~ Joshua Tree National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 24-105mm f/4 L IS, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/10th
Notes: One of the 5DmkII’s best new features is live view, which basically means you can use the LCD to compose your shot. While that may sound rather silly, it’s an SLR after all, it is incredibly useful! The reason being that you can turn on live view with exposure simulation (so it shows you what the image should look like after you take it), and then you can use depth of field preview to see what the focus will actually be at say f/16. This makes it much easier to optimize aperture and focus settings in the field, rather than relying on hyperfocal distance charts and guess and check.

While the Joshua Trees are strange, the California Junipers can form some pretty strange shapes too. I’m sure I’ll be back at some point to catch the Joshua Trees, though I’ve got to come up with a unique way of portraying them first – there’s too many pictures of them already! Anyways, with the clear blue skies, and the quarter moon (rising after midnight), I was able to give the new camera (and new lens!) a good workout.

“Cosmic Balance” ~ Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Click on the image to see the bigger version, this small size does terrible things to the image!
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 16-35mm f/2.8 L mkII, tripod
Exposure 1: iso 100, f/11, 5 sec
Exposure 2: iso 3200, f/2.8, 13 sec
Processing: I layered the two exposures in lighten blend mode to bring out the stars, and used some additional layer adjustments to even out the lighting the way I wanted. The web is robbing me of some of the detail in the blacks, you’ll have to see a print for the real deal!
Notes: The combination of this camera and lens give me effectively 2-3 stops more usable range than my previous set up, that’s 8 times more light! I’ve got a number of other such shots planned, so I hope you like it.

Ever since shooting “The Twilight Blues”, I’ve grown rather fond of this time of day. The moment that the stars come out, yet the land still holds some detail. Capturing this moment is rather difficult, and I’ve found it’s best done by combining exposures from the twilight light with another shot for the stars about an hour later (without moving the camera of course!). Then some careful blending to bring the two together. For images like this, where the darkness contains lots of subtle details, it’s important to view the larger image. Though this still isn’t quite accurate, since the web seems to rob me of a level of blacks.. so you’ll have to see a print under some good lighting to really appreciate it!

The following day I did some scouting, and found at least two interesting spots, and a little less iconic than these spots (which I’d seen in photographs before). I can’t wait to get back there with some clouds to do my discoveries justice! My next destination for the weekend was the Salton Sea, where I was hoping to find some Burrowing Owls.

Burrowing Owls

Amid the farmland, artificial salty lake of Salton Sea, geothermal powerplants and hunting hides, lives a good sized population of burrowing owls. I’m going to go light on the details here, as I hope to have an article coming out in Living Bird detailing the trip – you’ll be sure to hear about it if/when it happens! In any case, I found these silly birds alongside the road and spent the better part of the afternoon with them.

Burrowing Owl ~ Salton Sea, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 500mm f/4 L IS, 1.4x tc, tripod/sidekick
Exposure: iso 200, f/8, 1/400th
Processing: I had to clone some color from the left to the right on the bottom to fix some odd blue hues that got in there somehow.

Burrowing Owl ~ Salton Sea, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 500mm f/4 L IS, 1.4x tc, tripod/sidekick
Exposure: iso 200, f/8, 1/320th

So the predictions may have said clear and sunny, but the clouds were moving in, and pretty soon I was standing under a rather magnificent sunset! The pink light reflected off just about every surface, including the pair of owls huddling behind a bush.

Burrowing Owl Pair ~ Salton Sea, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 500mm f/4 L IS, 1.4x tc, tripod/sidekick
Exposure: iso 1600, f/5.6, 1/125th
Note: This is a heavy crop from the 5DmkII, but it’s still over 9 megapixels – I love this camera for the freedom in post capture cropping it offers, rather than being forced to do so in camera as I was with the 20D. The 5DmkII and 20D have the same pixel density, so I’m not losing any resolution.

As the sunset wound down, I figured I’d shoot the sunset, despite the man-made landscape that I generally avoid. What you see here is some kind of farm, and a geothermal power plant in the back.

“Food and Power” ~ Salton Sea, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 16-35mm f/2.8 L mkII, tripod, 2-stop hard GND
Exposure: iso 800, f/16, 20 sec
Notes: The 16-35 produces much nicer flares off bright light sources than the 17-40 ever did, another advantage of this lens. Despite shooting at iso 800, the image quality is spectacular!

Some Pasadena Birds

I’ll start out with what will likely be my last image taken on my 20D, which I’ve now retired (though it’s still around for backup). I’ve been exploring out of focus foregrounds on occasion (as seen in some of the burrowing owl images), and here I tried to go for a dreamy effect around the bird.

Black Phoebe ~ Eaton Canyon, CA
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 800, f/5.6, 1/400th

It might come as no surprise to those that live in Pasadena, or even some other areas of California and the rest of the country, but there’s a rather large population of wild parrots that live here. The rumored story goes that some pet shop on Colorado Blvd burned down in 1959, releasing the birds into lush Pasadena, and they’ve managed to do quite well since then. There’s a number of species around, from little parakeets to rather large Amazons. Usually they’re pretty high up, but yesterday they came down to within range. Incidentally it also rained, which is rather rare here.. it was nice to see some clouds again!

Mitred Parakeet ~ Caltech Campus, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 400, f/5.6, 1/400th

Red-Masked Parakeet ~ Caltech Campus, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 800, f/8, 1/400th

Well, that’s about all the adventures thus far.. hopefully it won’t be too long before I get to share some more!

3 Comments to “Local Adventures”

  1. Sarah says:

    Great photos!

  2. Susan Kegley says:

    Floris, I so look forward to your posts. The owls were fantastic, as well as the Cosmic Balance and Food and Power. Keep ’em coming!



  3. Laurent says:

    Nice blog, Floris. Just found it. I have an image of that same stone and juniper taken in the campground. Funny how similar people see at times. Good photography!