Pigeon Point Lighthouse

DAY 12 – Sunday 24th

Pigeon Point, San Rafeal, CA - Copyright 2015 M4Photo

The whole of today was a bust with regards to the weather. The Golden Gate Bridge had a layer of fog across the top of the towers and the fog was still thick as we climbed high above the bridge on the surrounding hills. We did take a walk out to the lower viewing area, but the wind was horrendous and the air damp with fog. Regretfully, it was back to the hotel and some more sleep.

We headed out later in the morning but the weather over San Francisco was not favourable all day long. We therefore took a trip out to Sausalito with its expensive houses clinging to the hillside and overlooking the bay. We found a wonderful place to eat and I had the fish and chips yet again, but this one was ace.

Checking the weather throughout the day, it looked like our luck had finally run out and we headed out to San Rafael, passing the San Quentin State Prison in the distance. We arrived at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, well just a few hundred yards along the coast, but the rain was spitting and the sky overcast and worse on the way. The weather for tomorrow was looking awful and for this reason Mark and I braved the weather and caught a handful or shots using the stoppers, grads and the histogram.

Was nit worth it?  Well, the image above is a quick two minute edit to warm up the image, bring out some of the shadows and to try to lose some of the overall greyness of the image but without losing the memory of the awful overcast low light and drizzle that we had to work with.

As a final farewell and with the dawn shoot cancelled, we headed out into San Francisco, found a bar, had a few drinks and a laugh over a 1980’s games machine and then back to the hotel for bed. Tomorrow will be another long day for the trip back home.

Golden Gate Bridge x2 and Alcatraz Silhouette

DAY 11 – Saturday 23rd

1P7A0109

This morning was another early start to capture a sunrise from the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The cloud was light but low with fog settling on the top of the two towers suspending the bridge above the bay. If the fog had settled at road level on the bridge we would have gone into the hills but it was too high and we made our way down to a small jetty. When we arrived, some local fishermen were waiting to pull in their nets and shortly after we setup our cameras on the jetty, a seal graced us with its presence in the water below. This must be a regular occurrence because the seal hung around for the whole of the shoot.

The light was not great for shooting and I opted for a longer exposure with a graduated filter to balance the dawn sky with the water below the bridge and a stopper to get a longer exposure for the water. The weather was not great with the fog dropping slightly further onto the two towers of the bridge. By the end of the shoot the fog began to lift and the sun rose, but the sky was largely grey and overcast throughout.

I was pleased to have opted to risk underexposing my first shot more than usual and to use the histogram to get some data that I could work with. The two minute edited image is pleasing with a nice halo effect over the towers from the obscured aircraft warning lights and the white lights towards the top of the towers.

With the shoot finished, it was back to the hotel and a few short hours of sleep. This getting up early and sleeping late is beginning to get tiring, but the photography is most enjoyable. Taking advantage of the clear roads, Paul took advantage of a more scenic route to the hotel. We took in the some of the large number of the military barracks and officers buildings around the coastline of the city and we also took a drive down the famous steep and twisty Lombard Street. How the horses pulled their carts up there, I will never know.

Lunch/Dinner was over-looking the harbour at Boudins Bakery over Fishermans Wharf. I chose the fish and chips – well you have to at the harbour and they were excellent.

We had scouted some areas during the day, including a light house, a view across the Bay Bridge that Paul was interested in and a couple of others. With the decisions made earlier in the day, we headed out to a view of the bay that stretches from Bay Bridge right across to Alcatraz.

1P7A0131As the sun began to sink into the sky, Alcatraz became a grey silhouette against the mountain backdrop and a glorious orange sky. This took our attention away from the city for a while and I ran off a few shots at different exposure settings to hedge my bets again.   Dodging the humongous container ships that leave and arrive at sunset, I captured a few shots across the bay and out over Alcatraz until the sun disappeared. These shots included using the grad, little and then big stopper, before removing all of the filters to turn to the city itself.

I’m not too sure about the city shot across the bay. The city was nicely lit but it appears very small and straight across the frame with the Bay Bridge. This is an image that will need all of the post processing skills that Paul taught us earlier in the trip to pull out a nice image.

We then headed up into the hills above Bay Bridge for the second of our two sites this evening. The aim was to capture an image straight down the bay bridge looking into the city. The bridge is a double decker and I wanted to capture some light trails of the car’s rear lights – all five lanes.

I struggled at first with blown out shots and dropped the exposure time considerably. Checking the histogram, I settled for an exposure setting which was optimal for the focusing but which was slow enough to give me some light trails but which also had decent spread across the histogram. The images will need a little help in post processing to cool them down and to get the most of them.

Bay City Roller - Bay Bridge, San Francisco, CA, USA - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

Bay City Roller – Bay Bridge, San Francisco, CA, USA – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

On the way back to the car, we noticed a different angle and this became my favourite view of the bridge. It just goes to show, that despite having a location scouted earlier in the day, you really need to keep looking around because there could be something better close by. This extended what was supposed to be a quick ten minute shoot into over an hour. Whilst the first location was busy with photographers our side of the fence and also on the other side in front of us, we had the second location all to ourselves.

Mark and I captured some nice images that frame the bridge with some trees. I opted for a short exposure to freeze the trees, but I actually refer the longer exposed image, despite the tree branch moving a little over the bridge. Paul managed to get a better position which will not have the trees in the frame and I am really looking forward to seeing his finished image sometime in the future. Using his wealth of skills and the Phase One, he should have a cracking shot. He was still shooting when I had finished and in hindsight I should have continued looking for better compositions and this is another lesson learned. However, it was good to watch Paul work for a few minutes before we all headed back to the car.

The weather is changing :(

DAY 10 – Friday 22nd

Infinity - Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley, CA - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

Infinity – Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley, CA – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

This morning’s sunset was also a bust. Looking out of the hotel window, the mountains were cloud covered to a low level and the air was heavy with moisture, despite the rain having finally stopped overnight. Paul had some work to catch up on with the Phase One Instagram account, Mark decided to process a couple of his images and I settled down to catch up with the blog. At 09:00 we met outside our rooms and headed back on the road bound for San Francisco.

The plan for this evening was a sunset view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach. This was one of the key images that I was hoping to get after seeing a nice image on the internet some months ago. We had a great lunch at The Cheesecake Factory and we watched the clouds sprinting over the sky. It still looked a little iffy and this proved to be the case on the beach. There were several photographers already on the sands and they quickly moved on further down to the bridge over the entrance to the bay. However, Paul noticed the workmen’s nets suspended below the bridge and we stayed put.

I was using the Phase One this evening and despite playing with exposure times I was never going to get a good shot. I therefore waited until the bridge became lit, grabbed a few long and short exposure shots and packed away the camera. The histogram looked OK and my plan will be to try to rescue something from the shoot, maybe in the form of a blue (cooler) image and to pull out the reds in the bridge itself.

In the meantime, the bridge view from the beach will have to wait for another time.

Emerald Bay

DAY 9 – Thursday 21st

Lonely Isle - Emerlad Bay, Lake Tahoe, CA, USA - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Lonely Isle – Emerlad Bay, Lake Tahoe, CA, USA – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

It is strange to get up and dress in the clothes from the day before and no shower, but early morning sunrise shots mean an alarm call ten minutes before the agreed meeting time and a snooze followed by a shower and new clothes later.

We arrived at the location at the side of the road high above Emerald Bay on Tahoe Lake. There is a higher vantage point but this is hard to get to and I was actually glad to have my feet firmly on the ground and behind a nice thigh high wall. The camera was set up, the composition set and filters applied. After a few test shots, Paul opened the car door with the heater on full blast for some respite from the cold morning air.

Again, the weather was not great and it was very overcast. The sun did find a hole at times and bounced some light off of the clouds and onto the main body of the lake. This was going to be another lesson in damage limitation because the weather forecast was showing that the rain would come in the afternoon and tomorrow would also be bad. So back to working on composition, balancing the light and using the histogram to ensure that we had an image to process later.

I am not sure how good my images will be, but I’ll find out later.

After some sleep and breakfast in the room, Mark and I spent a few hours working on some images and I tried to catch up on the blog.

After some lunch, we settled down in the room for a Photoshop session with Paul. As previously agreed, we loaded up Mark’s Bonsai Tree image in Capture One on Paul’s machine. He explained how to get the colours correct first before moving on to composition tweaks and how to turn the dull image into a great sunset shot. Whilst not as we remembered at the site, the image was very pleasing. This was then discussed and Paul explained how purists would react to the image, but how his subtle changes did not really do anything that could not have been done in camera using filters, etc. However, we all agreed that the image was different but enhanced in a professional way that most people should accept.

Paul then left Mark and I to work on our own images using the information shared over the previous couple of hours. I made lots of notes and plan to try to apply those when I get home.

The evening’s weather continued to get worse and the rain came down. A sunset session was therefore not possible and we headed out for dinner. All four of us have got on really, really well and it was not unusual for three of us to opt for the same dinner, with a change of heart I opted for the lasagne, rather than bangers and mash, and I was really pleased for the change. Dinner was really great and I looked forward to a full night’s sleep and probably the first of the trip.

Big rocks and little trees

DAY 8 – Wednesday 20th

Half Dome over Merced River - Yosemite National Park, CA, USA - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Half Dome over Merced River – Yosemite National Park, CA, USA – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo


I welcomed a later than usual start this morning, We headed into the valley once more and straight to the river bend that we wanted to capture without people and boats. We also wanted to try for a better sky than the previous session. People were still an issue but the sky was definitely better. Otherwise, it was business as usual with the big stopper to smooth the water, a grad for the sky and I also dropped on the polariser for the water. Having the benefit of three filters (as per Paul’s pre road trip suggestion) was really beginning to pay dividends.

With the best possible shot in the bag and a road trip to Lake Tahoe, we hit the road and time to get some supplies and to catch up with the blog.

We hoped to capture two shots on the lake. The first was a scene that Paul had sent us an image of during the trip planning phase. The Bonsai Rock is a fairly large rock with an interesting shape with some small trees that somehow have managed to survive in the most unusual location. I had deliberately not researched the sites that we were to visit because I did not want to arrive with preconceived composition ideas. With the car parked at the side of the road above the slop down to the lake, we waited for the rain to stop and for the clouds to clear a little.

Bonsai - Bonsai Rock, Lake Tahoe, CA, USA - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Bonsai – Bonsai Rock, Lake Tahoe, CA, USA – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Thankfully the weather cleared and we scrambled down the sandy slop, using roots and rocks to stop slipping on the steep sides. At the bottom we were presented with a lake side covered with boulders and I quickly located one with a composition that I liked. The rock had a horrible slop, so I braced my tripod between two rocks and set up the camera.   I decided to initially set up with a graduated filter to balance the sky and to bounce between F8 and F14. F14 was to gain a slightly longer exposure to smooth the water because the sun flare was not going to happen.

Annoyingly, I did not try the big stopper at this location for a milky smooth water around the rocks. However, anything that was dropped would be gone because of the gaps between the rocks. I therefore decided to play safe and learned that in landscape photography, playing it safe usually results in a compromised shot and a missed money shot. This trip is all about great locations, great tuition and lessons to be learned, and I’m learning very, very fast.

Our images from the lake were not great out of the camera and we had to use the histogram to ensure that the shots could be processed later. This was a tip that Paul had shared with us on day two and which really came into its own at this location.

Mark later processed his Bonsai Tree image and uploaded it to his Facebook profile. One of his mates then ran it through one of the software based filters that are readily available to photographers but the image became over processed and very HDR looking. Paul later told us about the various types of software filters that are available and he demonstrated how a nice image can be made very nice, or very fake. He also offered to show us how to better process the image for a more realistic look.

With another early morning start, we headed off for a few short hours of sleep.

Stars, Falls and a Rainbow

Milky Way over Yosemite National Park, CA - Copyright 2015 M4PhotoDAY 7 – Tuesday 19th – Tuesday would begin with a very early start. The alarm rang and we headed down to the car to head off to Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, for just after 4.00 am.

Tunnel View is a scenic outlook over Yosemite Valley on Route 41. It is a spot that is popular with photographers and Paul explained that it could get busy with photographers jostling for the best positions. The viewpoint is served by a reasonably sized car park and the shot is taken from a short walled area that looks eastward into Yosemite Valley and it includes features of the surrounding area, including the southwest face of El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall.

The aim would be to get a shot down the valley with the Milky Way high above us. In hindsight, 01:00 am would have been better because the Milky Way would have been running directly up the valley, but our chosen time provided us with a brilliantly clear sky.

Dropping back to what we had learned at the previous night shot, I dropped my F Stop, raised the ISO and set the exposure time and focus. Composing the shot was difficult as not much could be seen through the view finder and, for that reason, I ran off a few exposures to check them in the preview. With the composition set, I sat back and ran of a few exposures between 15 and 30 seconds in length. Night photography has been something new to me on this trip and I have valued Mark and Paul’s experience and advice which has helped me to obtain some nice night time images.

With our tripods in the perfect location for the sunrise and with an expectation of allot of photographers joining us, we left or tripods in place and retreated back to the car to keep warm. It was bitterly cold in the early morning air well above the valley floor.

As was becoming usual, I setup the camera and added my graduated filter to compensate for the shade of the trees in the valley below us and the early morning sky. I ran off a number of exposures to check the composition and to check my settings and then slowed down to await the rising sun. At 06:14 the sun popped through and it rose above the mountain side of the valley. In anticipation of this, and calling on Paul’s tuition from earlier in the trip, I had already selected a high F Stop with a small aperture in the hope of a sun burst. I was not disappointed and my chosen image has a lovely star burst with the trees in the valley becoming illuminated by the early morning sunshine.

With the sunrise image in the bag, we packed up when the light looked to settling down and we headed back to the hotel to catch a few short hours sleep before heading back out for breakfast and a long day in Yosemite National Park.

After snatching a few hours sleep, we headed off for a full day in the park. Our first shot would be from the valley floor looking up at the Yosemite Falls. These falls are the highest in the park, dropping some 2,425 feet (739m) from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall.

Yosemite Fall - Yosemite National Park, CA, USA - Copyright Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Yosemite Fall – Yosemite National Park, CA, USA – Copyright Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

From our vantage point, we could clearly see the upper falls but the middle and lower falls were out of sight. Nevertheless, with only a few minutes on the valley floor, I managed to capture a nice image using the composition framing guidance from Paul and a couple of filters to balance the bright sky and darker rocks and the trees in the foreground. I am finally beginning to understand the concept of reading the light balance whilst approaching the shooting sight. This alone is helping me to photograph better, to take fewer exposures of the same scene and to make better use of my time at the location. It also means less time back at home analysing too many images to pick the best one for editing.

The falls were not the main objective for this morning though. Paul knew of a lovely location on the river and which looks up towards Half Dome. The site was close to the car park but we managed to miss the location and chose to cross the river after a mile or so. This was a mistake because we found the location on the way back but the river was too deep and too fast flowing to even think about wading across. We continued on our hike and after completing the five mile (roughly) circle we arrived back at the car park and then quickly found our spot on the river. And yes, it was very close to the car park but we’d had our workout for the day.

We quickly set about setting up our tripods, cameras and filters and this was an opportunity for me to try the polarising filter to enhance the water in the shot. I initially tried turning the filter whilst mounted on the camera but it was much easier to use once Paul had explained how to use the filter first off camera and then mount it for the shot. The composition was nice but we did have some people and a boat in the image. These will provide me with a useful opportunity to try to remove them from the image in post processing.

After lunch in the park and a look at the Ansel Adams gallery, we headed off to Mirror Lake. This is a small section of the river in Tenaya Canyon that creates a small seasonal lake between Half Dome and North Dome. The lake is only about 25m across and it is the last remnant of a larger glacial lake that once filled most of Yosemite Valley at the end of the ice age. The lake used to be regularly dredged, but now it is left to nature and it is slowly filling with sediment and it will, no doubt, disappear in time without human interference.

Anyway, the lake is usually higher than that which we were presented with and the mirror surface that it is famous for was sadly lacking and the reflections in the water that we hoped for were disturbed by the moving water and ripples. We scouted around the area for a better composition, but decided to call this one off and head off to Bridalveil Fall.

One the way we took a quick stop one of the river bends and another shot of Half Dome from a different angle. I mounted my tripod with two legs on a large log and Paul explained that I needed to be careful because tourists would jump onto the log and walk along it. This causes vibration which my longer exposures would pick up. I therefore needed to be extra vigilant throughout the shoot. I shot my chosen image wide and caught some of the plants and wood at the side of the river. This has become another of my favourite images of the valley.

Bridalvale Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA - Copyright 2015 M4PhotoBridalveil Fall is one of the most prominent falls in the park and it can be seen from many of the parks viewing points. At 617 feet (188 meters) high, the fall flows nearly all year round. There was a short hike up to the tourist viewing point and thankfully the spray from the fall was manageable. One of the tourists asked Paul to take their photograph and it was fun to think that they had no idea about the person taking the image – a Reiffer for free – now that’s a bargain.

My initial composition had the falls to one side using some trees to one side. Paul quickly explained that the better view would be to have the fall directly in the centre of the frame because it is the one and only feature in the composition.

My chosen composition took advantage of the sky which had some moving clouds. I also shot slightly more upwards to avoid the steps that were full of tourists climbing up closer to the fall. I therefore opted for the big stopper filter to get some movement in the clouds and thankfully the water cascaded straight down during the long exposure. I also included a graduated filter to balance out the light difference between the bright sky and the rocks around the fall.

Sunset would be shot over at Tunnel View. We arrived and used our new found knowledge and experience to setup in the best spot, with filters and best settings. Interestingly, we were rewarded with a fabulous rainbow which stretched from the middle base of the valley across to the right and into the sky. With the outlook filling with photographers it became a race to capture a good shot of the rainbow before it disappeared. Owing to the unusual opportunity I decided to take many exposures at different camera settings to hedge my bets and to maximise the opportunity to obtain a good shot. The rainbow lasted ages and it was towards the end of the session as the sun was setting that I caught my best shot and the one that I will process for my Flicker account.

Mark, Paul and I all got great shots with different perspectives and we all finished the day on a high. The weather has been unusual on this trip for the time of year, but the fabulous locations that Paul has chosen have been enhanced with some great but unexpected weather conditions.

Rainbow Climbing High - Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, CA, USA - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

Rainbow Climbing High – Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, CA, USA – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

Back to Mono and then to Yosemite

Ansel's Valley - A view of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point in the style of (and inspired by) Ansel Adams - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Ansel’s Valley – A view of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point in the style of (and inspired by) Ansel Adams – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

DAY 6 – Monday 18th – Today began with another visit to what is becoming my favourite lake in North America. Today I would be shooting with the Phase One and the aim of the day was to experiment in obtaining a more abstract photograph. The Phase One lenses that we have are all prime lenses and this means choosing the correct lens for the job and then moving around to get the composition that is desired.

I do not have access to the files from the shoot at the time of writing, nor the Capture One software that is required to process the Phase One’s images. However, I hope to have that capability on my return home and I’ll drop an example into the blog here, or link to the Road Trip’s gallery on my Flicker page.

Back on the road, we’d then head over to Yosemite but we’d hit a little bit of a problem. Paul and ‘The Vig’ had planned to take Highway 120 across to Yosemite National Park. This involved crossing Tioga Pass but this was closed owing to bad weather. The day before we had found a nice place to eat and we headed back there as it was then on our 250+ mile detour. Fortunately, Mark was watching the weather and road closures on his phone and towards the end of lunch he announced that the pass was open and we quickly backtracked to take advantage of the shorter route and the chance to capture another sunset in the park

The drive over the pass was pretty uneventful, save for a 20 minute wait at some road works. It seemed that we were waiting for the workmen to complete a section, but in truth the road became single file for some distance. So we decided to explore ‘The Vigs’ iPod and a broad range of music from current pop to Heavy Metal. I worry about the poor guy who was standing in front of the car with the stop sign .

Following a bag drop we headed into the National Park and Glacier Point. The toilets in the park were gross and the altitude provided for some interesting entertainment. Shooting from the point was interesting for someone who does not like heights, although I am getting better. Whilst perfectly safe and well back from the edge, I set up my tripod in an outcrop of rock that slopped towards the edge – well it looked that way as I could not see the drop into the valley below.

The aim was to capture the valley as the sun dropped and lit the scene from behind. I opted for a graduated filter just to take the sky down a little and a lower F-Stop to keep the lens at its best range. Star bursts were not on the cards but I did try a couple of shots with doubled up filters and a longer exposure.

The clouds were not favourable and my final preferred image was a little flat. Whilst in the valley, Paul had taken us to see some of Ansel Adams’ work with some eye watering prices for the prints and original prints. Feeding on this inspiration I chose to process the image as colour and also as black and white in the style of Ansel Adams. The black and white image is by far my favourite, but it will need some additional work when I get home and have more time.