California Blooming

Sorry to all you folks that live in places where spring is still a few months away, but here in California it’s in full swing. Actually, it’s past full swing now, we’re steadily approaching summer! With all the glowing flower reports (for those unaware, check out this wildflower report site), I made sure to take a few days to go enjoy the blooms. This was my first year chasing the wildflowers in California, and while there’s still a few weeks left, I’m already looking forward to next year! The season is surprisingly short, and not always easy to predict when, where, and how good the blooms will be, so it’s always different and exciting. It depends on rain, micro-climates, snow levels, temperature changes, wildfires, etc… lots of variables come into place. I haven’t yet had a chance to make it out to the desert blooms, hopefully they’ll hold out for another week or two. I haven’t had a chance to update in a while, so there’s a lot of images in here (not all will end up/stay on the website, but I figured you’d like to see as many as possible) – I hope you enjoy some, if not all of them!

My first stop was in the California foothills, near Arvin, where the flowers were literally a carpet of color stretching out for miles. I found this spot after I’d passed through the fields of poppies and lupines, a few hundred feet higher – fields of blooming fiddlenecks (basically orange forget-me-nots). My goal was to capture the essence of a warm California afternoon in the blooming spring foothills, among the flowers, granite boulders, and Oak trees. A tall order you might say, but with a clear vision, research, preparation, and perseverance (well, this one was more luck when it came to the light), I think I managed to do just that.


“California Gold” ~ San Joaquin foothills, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 16-35mm mkII @ 24mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 1/25th
Processing: a special recipe to bring out the ‘glow’ in the flowers and woods which doesn’t pass on through the camera.

That rock in the foreground actually had some pretty neat formations in it as well, so I made sure to get one of those as well.


“Blooming Granite” ~ San Joaquin foothills, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 16-35mm mkII @ 17mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/20, 1/8th
Processing: a special recipe to bring out the ‘glow’ in the flowers and woods which doesn’t pass on through the camera.

And lastly, as I was walking back to the car, this scene caught my attention with the perfectly arranged boulders, oak, scattered colors, and faint “path” leading through the meadow.


“California Spring” ~ San Joaquin foothills, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 16-35mm mkII @ 23mm, polarizer, 2-stop hard GND, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 1/5th

After this mini adventure, I met up with my dad at the Pinnacles National Monument, in hopes of catching some of the strange rock formations with the spring blooms. While we encountered patches of flowers here and there, nothing was truly spectacular. This is one of the few places (some of the others being Big Sur and the Vermilion Cliffs area in Arizona), where California Condors have been successfully re-introduced. So, when we went for our afternoon hike, I carried my 500mm f/4 and monopod at the ready, in addition to my landscape equipment. Of course, we didn’t see any, in fact, we hardly saw any birds at all. But just as we were heading down the slope I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perched with a perfect lookout. While he was way too far away for a classic ‘portrait’ image, it was a perfect opportunity to portray this bird in its natural habitat – something to show the essence of what it must feel like to be a raptor like that.


Red-tailed Hawk ~ Pinnacles National Monument, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 500mm f/4 + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 400, f/8, 1/250th

Meanwhile my dad reported to me that the flowers were going crazy out near their home in the foothills of the Sierras East of Fresno. I decided it was worth the 3 hour drive there and back (I had to be in San Jose the following day). But first I spent the morning looking for some more birds, and found this Palm Warbler singing his heart out.


Palm Warbler ~ Pinnacles National Monument, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 500mm f/4 + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 1600, f/5.6, 1/320th

After some breakfast I headed out to the waiting flower displays, and was not disappointed. The trouble with the California foothills (and most places these days I guess, but particularly the California foothills) is that most of the land is privately owned ranch land, so access is difficult. While I was frustrated by the ever present barb wire fences blocking my access to some of the glowing orange hills, with enough exploring I still found a few scenes that struck my fancy. California poppies are frustrating to photograph, as they look their best at midday when they open their petals to the sun. Of course, light isn’t exactly ideal then – hence the frustration. In any case, I wanted to capture the incredible spread of color, so pulled off the side of the road and shot this scene at 1000mm – my 500mm lens with two 1.4x teleconverters attached. Upon returning home I discovered, to my dismay, that the image quality was absolutely atrocious, even for the shots where I only used one teleconverter! After some thinking, I realized, it wasn’t the glass, it was in fact the heatwaves that I was shooting through that created this blurry highly diffracted painting like quality. Well, I rolled with it to see where it would take me… it doesn’t work very well as a small web image, but the details and glow surrounding the poppies is really quite something at the full size and it could make for an interesting canvas print or something, we’ll see.


“Poppy Painting” ~ San Joaquin foothills, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 500mm f/4 + two 1.4x tc’s, tripod
Exposure: iso 50, f/11, 1/40th (no, I don’t know why I used iso 50)
Note: see below for a close up.
Processing: I used a combination of sharpening and the same process to add some glow as I used more subtly in some of the other images. Here it might be a little strong for many people’s tastes, it really doesn’t work as well unless you see the whole thing, but I wanted to give a picture of the scale of the color out there!


Here’s a close up of the above image (100% crop if you click on the image). The strange distortions you see are the result of the heatwaves. I thought the Monet like impressions it left were rather intriguing.

Of course, as soon as the sun hides behind the hills the poppies go to sleep.


“Glowing Poppies” ~ San Joaquin foothills, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 70-200mm @ 168mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/4, 1/200th
Processing: a special recipe to bring out the ‘glow’ in the flowers and woods which doesn’t pass on through the camera.

But the other flowers, I’m not sure on an ID for these unfortunately, continue to show themselves off in all their brilliance. Here’s another two that I think really show off the landscape: the fairy like flower speckled Oak woods.


“Fairy Woods” ~ San Joaquin foothills, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 24-105mm @ 55mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/18, 0.3 sec
Processing: a special recipe to bring out the ‘glow’ in the flowers and woods which doesn’t pass on through the camera.


“Where Fairies Live” ~ San Joaquin foothills, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 70-200mm @ 104mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/14, 0.4 sec
Processing: a special recipe to bring out the ‘glow’ in the flowers and woods which doesn’t pass on through the camera.

As the evening approached, I made my way back to a spot by the King’s river I had scouted out earlier. The hazy heat clouds had dissipated, the moon was new, and everything was set to create a lovely twilight star scene over this patio of round pebbles and lupines. I set up my camera and started the lengthy processing of capturing the essence of the ‘night’.


“Cosmic Patio” ~ Lupines in the King’s river canyon, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 16-35mm mkII @ 23mm, tripod
Exposure 1: iso 400, f/16, 1.5 min (foreground/hills)
Exposure 2: iso 1600, f/16, 30 sec (sky, 30 min later)
Exposure 3: iso 3200, f/2.8, 15 sec (stars, another 30 min later)
Processing: Rather complicated… if you’re interested in the details stay tuned for an article coming out on NPN in May. I’ll try to post a link when the time comes around.

And since I know many folks have been missing the birds, here’s one more, nothing special… unless you’ve tried photographing bushtits before, and then you might say the fact that it actually stopped moving long enough for me to get a picture is pretty special!


Bushtit ~ Eaton Canyon, CA
The Tech: Canon 5DmkII, 500mm f/4 + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 800, f/5.6, 1/250th

Well, that’s all for now.. thanks again for stopping and by, I hope you enjoyed the images. And thanks for the kind comments on my last posting – love hearing from you all!

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3 Responses to California Blooming

  1. Great story, sweet shots. California Gold and the Cosmic Patio shot are the clear winners. So is this ‘glowing’ recipe a secret? 🙂

  2. Thanks Ben.. I do kind of want to keep this one a mystery, for now at least. Though in all honesty it’s not too hard to figure out 😉

  3. Thank you so much for sharing these images. Your wildflower shots are stunning and Cosmic Patio enchants the eye. I only hope to approach your photographic skills and sensitivity to the wonders of nature one day. I’m looking forward to the “recipe” when it’s revealed in May.

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