Archive for the ‘National Parks’ Category

A collection of images from this year’s Joshua Tree workshop.  We had a great group of 10 participants who produced some very memorable images.  I found myself not pulling out my own camera much on this trip, but did manage a few pics in the 4 days in the park along with a quick stop in Antelope Valley for the poppy bloom on the ride home.


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I had a great time in Joshua Tree with a group of photographers attending the Camera West workshop led by my good friend Jason Bradley.  We were treated to the tail end of a very unusual bloom with Joshua Tree seed and flower production up about 40 percent as compared to the previous best season in the last 25 years.  Some researchers believe that the stress from drought and climate change may have induced the “once in a lifetime” bloom.  As a survival mechanism the trees go into high gear in an attempt to boost reproduction.  Others believe the unique bloom can be attributed to last year’s late summer thunderstorms and/or cool winter weather.

We spent every evening during the workshop in the field playing with techniques for night photography including light painting, long exposures, time-lapse, and using ambient moonlight, all of which produced some fantastic results.  During an afternoon exploring a cholla cactus garden I was fortunate enough to happen upon a unique wildlife encounter that a couple photographers from our group had discovered.  A gopher snake had climbed up a cholla cactus and invaded a cactus wren’s nest.  The wren parents were desperately trying to chase off the snake and protect 2 chicks inside the nest.  Ultimately they were unsuccessful and the snake got it’s dinner.  By the time I arrived, the snake had already done it’s thing and the wrens were still attempting to chase it off.  I felt awful for the birds of course, and somewhat happy for the snake, but mostly I felt privileged to witness a day in the life of these creatures so well adapted to the harsh desert environment.

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I had a fantastic time photographing in Redwood National Park and along the North Coast last week.  It was a little odd being there for 4 days and not taking a single shot of a redwood until the last day of the trip.  It just goes to show the abundance of photo ops in the area.  The first 3 days were spent photographing Roosevelt elk, incredible beaches, river otter, fern canyon, and driftwood galore.  The final day brought ideal conditions for forest photography with overcast skies and a light drizzle to wet down the foliage and really make it glow.  Good Times!  Can’t wait to get back and explore some more.

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Joshua Trees at Hidden Valley ~ Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Tech: Canon 5DMKll, 400mm 2.8, tripod
Exposure: 1/15 sec. @ f/18, iso 100

Boulder Field at Sunset ~ Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Tech: Canon 5DMKll, 17 - 40mm @ 19mm, tripod, grad filter
Exposure: 3.2 sec. @ f/10, iso 100
Notes: I used a 2 stop hard-edged neutral density filter to balance the sky and foreground exposure

Juniper and Balanced Rock ~ Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Tech: Canon 5DMKll, 17 - 40mm @ 29mm, tripod, flash
Exposure: 6 sec. @ f/16, iso 100
Notes: Off camera flash with warming gel to fill in shadowed side of juniper and foreground rock

Luminous Night ~ Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Tech: Canon 5DMKll, 17 - 40mm @ 20mm, tripod
Exposure: 30 sec. @ f/7.1, iso 2500
Notes: The orange glow in the clouds is caused by a combination of backlighting from the moon and the warm glow of distant city lights.

Evening Clouds over Arch Rock ~ Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Tech: Canon 5DMKll, 17 - 40mm @ 17mm, Tripod
Exposure: 30 sec. @ f/9, iso 800

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Recently took a quick trip to Point Reyes National Seashore. This is a video from my partner in crime, Jason Bradley.


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Over the New Years holiday, I had the opportunity to visit Death Valley National Park.  Having not been there before I had a lot of ground to cover with my partner in crime (Scott Arnaz) in just 2 1/2 days.  We hit a lot of the major sites including the famous Mesquite Sand Dunes, Artist’s Palette, Zabriskie Point, Devil’s Golfcourse, and the Salt Flats near Badwater.

Particularly impressive was our visit to the remote Racetrack playa which is home to the mysterious sliding rocks.  The playa is nestled between the Cottonwood Mountains to the east and the Last Chance Range to the west. During periods of heavy rain, water washes down from nearby mountain slopes onto the playa, forming a shallow, short-lived lake. Under the hot Death Valley sun, the thin veneer of water quickly evaporates, leaving behind a layer of soft mud. As the mud dries, it shrinks and cracks into a mosaic of interlocking polygons.

Strewn across the playa are rocks of various sizes, some weighing several hundred pounds, which leave long tracks in the sediment.  Some of these tracks are in a straight line, but many make sharp changes of direction, long bending curves, or multiple twists and turns.  There are several theories as to what causes the rocks to move.  The predominent explanation is that during storms with accompanying high winds the rocks get blown around the slick, rain soaked playa and are subject to the multiple directional shifts of the wind.  No one knows for sure since this phenomema has never been witnessed, but it certainly seems to be the most logical explanation.

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Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) is also known as Mountain Dogwood and can be found along waterways in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, especially Yosemite Valley. As the waterfalls in the Valley burst forth in spring and swell the Merced River, Pacific Dogwoods echo back with a spectacular display.

Pacific Dogwoods in Bloom

These showy white blooms are actually modified bud scales (rather than petals like a traditional flower) and can measure up to eight inches across. The blooms appear before the leaves and usually cover the entire tree in a brilliant display.

Nothing marks the start of spring more to me than blooming Dogwoods in Yosemite. Yosemite Valley is spectacular any time of year, but seeing the entire Valley set alight with these blooming trees is life changing. My wife and I first experienced this on our honeymoon, so these blooms will forever hold a soft spot with us, as we try to return every year if we can.

It’s hard to predict when the bloom will occur each year; the year I took this shot, we were a little early. This tree caught my eye as I drove around the Valley, so I had to stop for a better look. I loved what I was seeing– standing under this beautiful tree with the granite walls of Yosemite Valley in the background, so I managed to get a couple of hand-held shots off before the wind came up.

To see more dogwood images, visit our photo gallery at www.paulzaretsky.com

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