Life as seen through my lens…
For many here in America “March Madness” refers to a college basketball tournament, but for me March Madness was photographing two NorCal RallyCross events and working through the resultant almost 16,000 (!!!) photos I took in order to post a good selection of images for each driver in each event!!
The first event took place over 2 days at Prairie City State Vehicular Recreation Area. Saturday March 9 had two non-competition run groups which gave drivers a chance to warm up before the competition day on Sunday. Drivers that took part on Saturday were faced with a course layout that required a lot of skill but that rewarded them with a challenging and fun experience without the pressure of competition points.
Pictures from Saturday March 9 are here…
Prairie City March 9 Run Group 1
Prairie City March 9 Run Group 2
Sunday March 10 was competition day. Results from Sunday counted towards the SCCA and NCRX seasons and so drew a LOT of drivers. In total there were 75 drivers split across 4 run groups. Competition was tough. The course was reversed from the layout used the day before, which served to level the field a bit so those that drove the day before didn’t have an advantage from having prior track experience.
Pictures from Sunday March 10 are here…
Prairie City March 10 Run Group 1
Prairie City March 10 Run Group 2
Prairie City March 10 Run Group 3
Prairie City March 10 Run Group 4
Across these two days I shot around 8,800 photos. From that pool I selected around 15 photos of each car/driver for each run-group. The selection process alone took me about a week of after-hours work.
3 weeks later NorCal RallyCross held an event at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. March 29 and 30 were devoted to a Rally School hosted by Primitive Racing that introduced RallyCross to a new batch of drivers. The school was followed by a competition day that counted towards NCRX but not SCCA. This was another well attended day, and again the course designer presented the drivers with a challenging course with many tight turns and challenges, and the soft ground added an extra level of difficulty. The soft mud resulted in a number of vehicular casualties – suspension issues, dropped exhausts, and various bits of bodywork getting torn from cars.
The 65 or so drivers were split across 3 run groups that took most of the day to complete. My personal favorite was the 2nd run group because of the variety of vehicles, including an old Volvo PV544 (was as old as me!) and a Porsche 544 that was co-driven by J Krzeminski, which gave me an opportunity to do a little April Fool’s joke for my Facebook friends with a very minor piece of PhotoShop work!
The 3rd run group was all Subaru apart from one car, a bright red Audi A4. While I had a couple of friends in that run group, a big part of me was hoping the Audi would end up in the top 3 (sadly it wasn’t to be though). In all I shot almost 7,000 photos on this one day
Pictures from the competition day at Santa Rosa on March 31 are here…
Santa Rosa March 31 Run Group 1
Santa Rosa March 31 Run Group 2
Santa Rosa March 31 Run Group 3
I started photographing RallyCross because a family friend competes and asked me along to watch and shoot him in action, but I quickly found that the RallyCross community is a friendly and welcoming one, and even though I don’t compete myself I have through my photography become a member of that community, and now have many members that I consider friends. I look forward to the next event later this month even though I know that there will be a lot of photos to work through as a result.
It’s sad that it’s taken me almost a month to find the time to write this, but late is better than not at all!
2019 promised to be a good year for photographing the Horsetail Fall “Firefall” effect in Yosemite. There had been a LOT of snow and rain that should have fed Horsetail Fall strongly. What we didn’t anticipate though was a cold snap in the 2nd half of February. The supposed optimal day for “Firefall” this year was February 22, but I had an opportunity to visit a few days beforehand on February 18 also. Thankfully the weather cooperated on both days, with mostly clear skies, especially (and all importantly) to the west where the sun would be setting. All the elements seemed to be aligning to give us a spectacular display, apart from one thing… The cold snap had turned what should have been a gushing seasonal waterfall into a frigid trickle.
The cold and snowy conditions in the park had resulted in 2-3 feet deep snow on the uncleared ground. The cleared roads and trails were icy and slick, and as such the park rangers were directing all who wanted to see and photograph the event to the area surrounding the El Capitan picnic area. They made walking back down Northside Drive to get to the viewing spot on the banks of the Merced River an offence accompanied by fines (not that it stopped some people), and for safety’s sake, they didn’t want people trudging through the 2-3ft-deep snow near the edge of the river back. So… most of us kept to the prescribed area near the El Capitan picnic area…
Some had already staked out their preferred viewing spot in the morning. By lunchtime (when I got there) there were already between 50 to 100 people distributed around the area, but the nature of the forest in that area made it feel like there were less. On both days I was there, a camaraderie developed between the people there – from different walks of life, with different reasons for being there, but all drawn by the perhaps over-hyped expectations set thanks to social media to see this magical display that nature puts on each year. Some had seen it on prior years. Some were staying in the park for multiple days and were watching for the spectacle each evening they were there. Others were there for the first time just to see the magic happen. Some were just curious as to what was drawing so many other people there… We all chatted, laughed, shared stories, shared food and drink, and waited in the cold and snow for the sun to set.
As the afternoon progressed, more and more people arrived and set up their gear. Lots of expensive and unusual pieces of equipment were set up on tripods, all pointing up at the side of El Capitan where we were expecting to see fantastic things happen. As we drew close to sunset there had to have been thousands of people around us in the forest. All were looking up at the cliff-face and seeing a distinct lack of water flowing from Horsetail Fall. But still we all waited and watched.
On the 18th, many of us were standing at the side of the road, and as the afternoon progressed the park rangers were having a tough time keeping things flowing along Southside Drive as more and more people arrived to see this spectacle of mother nature. Seeing what was happening around me I wondered how busy it was getting in other areas.
On the 22nd I found out how busy the other areas got, as I chose to watch from the forest floor rather than the side of the road. It was less chaotic, but just as busy.
As the afternoon progressed we could see the light on the cliff-face change as the sun moved closer to the horizon…
The light drew closer and closer to where Horsetail Fall falls, and we watched and hoped.
Just as the color of the light started to change, we saw some water flow over the top of the fall. Not much, but enough!
Behind us, the light from the setting sun made the snow and ice covered rockfaces glow orange…
Meanwhile, we continued to see a small stream of water light up.
… and then the light faded as the sun dipped below the horizon.
There were days where the Firefall experience was much more spectacular than the days I chose to be there. The Tuesday and Thursday of that week saw more flow, some spray, and a much more vivid experience. Prior years where I had been there my luck was a little different. I went in on 2 days in 2017, and got these shots…
… and from 2016 this is what happens when there’s good flow, but the cloud blocks the light from the sunset…
As with many things in nature, there’s no guarantees that what you will get on a given day will match the experience of those that camp out day after day, year after year, in the hope of getting that perfect shot. Unless you have the time to dedicate to copying those few hardcore photographers, you have to be happy with what you get, and be content in the knowledge that you have been able to see this demonstration of mother nature’s fickle beauty in the flesh when so many can only look at the photographs of others in wonder and awe.
Still – I hope one year to be able to get one of those truly spectacular shots that a few other lucky people have been able to get!
In an attempt to try and keep some sort of regular update going, I thought that today I’d take a look on Flickr to see what my most “Faved” picture on there is.
The top 5 are somewhat telling of what I enjoy (when I get a chance!)
#5 most Faved is this shot of the Tuolumne Meadows and River in Yosemite National Park…
#4 most Faved is this shot of the Sunrise over Yosemite in Yosemite National Park…
#3 most Faved is this shot of Valley View in Yosemite National Park…
#2 most Faved is this shot of the Firefall in Horsetail Fall, in, yes you guessed it… Yosemite National Park…
#1 most Faved of all of my photos on Flickr though is this shoot, with the simple title of “Boom”, which I shot on October 10, 2010, at the San Francisco Fleet Week airshow.
Wow. Has it really been nearly 5 years since I posted here? I need to fix that!
My photography remains a hobby but I have moved from a place where I’d shoot anything and everything around me to one where other aspects of my life have left me with less time to shoot and process and promote. I am relatively(?) active on Facebook, but Flickr (where I used to be really active) has become more of a means for me to share large bodies of work I create for certain groups through volunteer work (such as Girl Scouts). I’ve also chosen to close down my SmugMug account – the expense of keeping it live was not worth it. There are other ways for me to sell my photographs and I just didn’t have the time to keep it up-to-date. Plus, with SmugMug and Flickr being owned by the same company now, it made no sense paying two subscriptions to the same company when all I really want to do is share my pictures.
Anyway – going forwards I will try and update this site with some sort of frequency – it certainly won’t be every day. It is more likely to be weekly at best, but I will endeavor to keep it coming!
On the subject of photography and photographing things I love, this time of year a very special thing can happen at Yosemite National Park. Known affectionately as the “Firefall”, for a short time window in the second half of February the light of the setting sun shines at such an angle that it hits a seasonal waterfall that flows from the top of the cliff to the east of El Capitan and makes it look like a stream of lava or embers is flowing down the rock face.
For this to happen, you need water in the seasonal waterway that feeds Horsetail Fall, you need an unobstructed sky to the west so the light from the setting sun can actually reach the water, and you need for there to be no obstructions such that the water actually flows into the waterfall. With the recent weather we have been having here in California, there is plenty of water to feed the falls, but thanks to the extreme cold weather we have been seeing recently, the water has frozen and the falls are not falling!
To add to that, there has been significant snowfall in the Yosemite Valley itself, which has led to limited parking opportunities, and anyone wanting to see the “firefall” will have to park back at the Yosemite Valley Lodge (close to Yosemite Falls) and will have to hike a couple of miles in the snow to the best viewing spots; Mother Nature is doing her best to carry out some crowd control for this now overly popular event. This event draws many spectators every year, most of which are photographers. To get a good photograph of the event you need some serious gear including tripods and long lenses, and something to sit on, as to get a good view you need to get there fairly early in the day. Lugging all of that, across deep snow, for a couple of miles, and then back again in the dark, is likely to put off many visitors that would have made the trip in milder weather.
For those that do make the effort, if everything aligns, it is a truly magnificent sight that is hard to comprehend even if you understand all of the elements involved in making it a reality.
I will be watching conditions in the park closely over the next week. If they change I will likely find myself heading there this year to try and get a shot or two, but if conditions remain as they are as we get closer to March I’ll forgo it this year. Once you get past February 24 the angle of the light from the setting sun changes such that it doesn’t hit the waterfall any more and the “fire” is extinguished, until next year!
This time last week I’d just about got home from an impromptu visit to Yosemite to catch photos of a spray moonbow (rainbow in the spray of a waterfall caused by the light of the full moon). There are apparently only 4 waterfalls in the world where this can happen when the conditions are right, and we have one a bit over 3 hours drive away. The conditions were right last week, so pretty much on a whim I decided to take a chunk of time out of my week to go see this for myself.
Shooting the moonbow meant I was up late into the night (and into the following morning), and as the Yosemite Valley is a magical place by the light of the full moon, I proceeded to journey around the valley to get moonlight shots of my “happy place”.
Before I knew it, it was 4:30 in the morning and I was up on Glacier Point looking down on the valley, so I decided to stick around for the sunrise which was only a bit over an hour away.
Cold and tired I sat in my car and napped for an hour before dragging myself from my dreams to go and watch the sun rise.
I was not disappointed. The scene started to get lighter as the sun neared the horizon, and then as it emerged above the line of distant mountains just behind Half Dome the warming rays of the sun hit my face and warmed my body and soul.
For a person who is spiritual (not religious) it was a very moving experience. I’m sure if I were a religious person I’d be putting a religious spin on this, but regardless, it was a wonderful way to start the day with a fresh appreciation of the beauty that is there if you only take the time to pull yourselves away from your daily distractions for a while to appreciate it.
If you ever get a chance to witness a sunrise in a place of beauty such as Yosemite National Park, do yourself a favor… make the effort to get up early and experience it for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it… and you can always make up the lost hours of sleep later!