The Perfect Poppy

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I have seen the most beautiful photographs of poppies, and up until now, I didn’t have any.  Back in April, at the end of my Southwest trip of 3000 miles in 10 days, I drove all the way from Death Valley to the Antelope Poppy preserve outside of Los Angeles, with every intention of finally capturing my perfect poppy shot.  Well…after driving through gale force winds, watching the hood of the Jeep jump up and down for miles and miles, seemingly about to come loose and fly up in my face, I made it.  Along with hundreds of other people.  The winds were still blowing, there was smog on the horizon, and my vision of the perfect shot went up in…uh… the smog.  

So fast forward to my trip to Napa with my Yoga teacher a few weeks later.  The morning everyone got up and had a massage, I drove about 30 miles south to a state park in Napa, walked up a lovely hill filled with oak trees and blankets of wildflowers and found a small patch of poppies on the side of the hill.  I spend an hour composing, shooting, waiting for the breeze to die down, and finally got what I wanted.  

Success !!!

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Post processing for the best image

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Over the years, I’ve gone from shooting ten or so rolls of film on vacation, being careful not to waste space because processing 36 photos plus the cost of the film was $15, to 500 photos a day thanks to the digital age, where we shoot from every possible angle, at every reasonable setting, sometimes in threes for HDR, (how much storage do you have?), to a much more reasonable between 10 to 50 at sunset, if the light keeps changing, finding a few perspectives which use the color in the sky to the best advantage. What a relief for me and the storage drive on my computer, which after 3 years of collecting images, is really getting full.  Time to delete.  

Which takes more time than you think, because there’s a possibility that you missed something the first time around, or you’ve learned something new about how to edit.  So, you need to look at your files before you delete the 500 you took on the Lake in August of 2011, or the 800 you brought home from Italy.  Trust me, it’s very time consuming.  

But…imagine when you start bringing some of the images up in Raw, using new techniques, and create a much better image than your first version.  I started processing images in Jpeg in Photoshop 2.0 in 2006.  I switched to RAW files in 2012, and upgraded to Photoshop CC last December. I’ve read tutorials, played with settings, and finally gotten a good handle on how to get the most out of a photo.  Take for example the photos in this series.  The first one, above, is an image that has a beautifully balanced histogram. I darkened the highlights a bit, lightened the shadows, and voila’, a lovely sunset.

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The next photo is a longer exposure which was done to soften the slight movement in the water, making the surface of the Lake looked dreamy.  But with a longer exposure, the highlights blow out a bit, and you lose the color around the area where the sun is setting.  So, to make myself happy, I took the sky from the first photo, and copy/pasted it over the sky on the longer exposure to create the image below.  I think.  It’s all subjective, isn’t it?  Now if I had taken one photo in RAW, I probably would have been happy with the image.  But when you’re shooting water, sometimes that dreamy look goes a long way.  What do you think?  

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50 Below Zero ?

Last Fall, I drove with a friend of mine to The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, only to be shut out of both parks by the government shutdown. A little frustrating, a little expensive and quite an adventure.  That was from 2013, the year of Murphy’s Law, rearing it’s ugly head over and over..

But that year is over, and I now have my Guardian Angel with me, so back I went to Yellowstone for a photography workshop in the park.  What attracted me to this was the fact that the photographer grew up in the area around Yellowstone, and knew the area like the back of his hand. Plus, you can’t just drive into the park, you have to ride a snowmobile, or rent a snow cat which is what we did.  

My friend and I started in Idaho Falls and drove to Jackson, which is a few miles outside of the Grand Tetons. We had planned to photograph the iconic Mormans Row at Sunrise with The Grand Tetons towering majestically in the background and Oxbow Bend at Sunset, with beautiful colors reflecting off of the …snow.

Oh yes, I forgot, it was snowing.  Kind of a light powdery snow that would have been fun to play in, but not so great for brilliant sunsets. And it hadn’t snowed like that for weeks.  Was it Murphy’s Law again?  We did see Elk, which my friend scared away by calling it BooBoo, a weasel in his winter coat, and some beautiful snowy landscapes.  

We spent the day exploring, had a wonderful dinner at an organic restaurant, shopped in town, laughed a lot, and headed to Yellowstone the next day, retracing our steps from October.  I’d call the drive through Driggs and Tetonia kind of a white out.  No clouds, just white everywhere.  And slippery roads! Needless to say, we didn’t turn around much, but we did stop to rephotograph a few locations we’d shot in the Fall.  My favorite was Hill House, which was surrounded by Aspens, so we have two seasons of that location.  And we found my red barn, which made my day.  As we got closer to Yellowstone, the wind picked up, I swear there were hurricane force winds driving us into the park!  something was up…or down.

After meeting the group we’d be photographing with the next day, we all headed to bed to get ready for a sunrise in Yellowstone.  The next morning It was cold.  No, not just cold, it was freezing! No, not just freezing, USA Today reported that West Yellowstone was the coldest place in the country that day at MINUS 50.  That’s 50 BELOW ZERO!  Have you ever ???  So, we found our place by the river, stood in the snowbank for 20 minutes waiting for some light to break through, it never did, and by the time we all got back in the snow cat, we couldn’t feel our fingers, toes, arms, legs, nose, I’m surprised we could even move !  The “warming hut” wasn’t open when we got there, but the bathrooms weren’t too bad.  They were probably 20 above zero.  So we warmed up a little in there.  I developed a headache that lasted 24 hours, and I think my feet finally thawed out around 8pm. Did I ALREADY say it was Cold?  50 BELOW?  Seriously?

But there’s always a silver lining, right? We drove through the park that day, stopping here and there, getting out for snapshots because it was too cold for anything else.  We saw a Bobcat, coyote, and the ubiquitous Bison, in fact a lot to them.  And we drove around again the next day, which was a warmer day with the temperature hovering around ZERO.  MY favorite part of our trip, aside from experiencing 50 below was the Norris Geyser Basin.  Beautiful!  

And I’m going back again in the Fall…but this time I’m headed to Bozeman and driving in from the Northern Entrance.  The Western Entrance just hasn’t been good to me.  If at first you don’t succeed, try try again !Image  

 

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A Sign from Above

With the beginning of a New Year, I’ve resolved to step outside of the safe little box that I’ve sheltered in, and create the life that I’ve always wanted to live, exploring this beautiful world and bringing home beautiful images to remind me everyday that finding your dream isn’t hard, or scary, you just have to start moving.  So, this year, I began my travels with a trip to Death Valley, a short 6.5 hour drive south of Reno, Nevada.  A fairly straight drive, well paved rolling highways, which I definitely rolled down and up and down again getting into Death Valley.

When I travel someplace new, I always have this vision in my mind’s eye of a place that’s foreign, where I won’t see many people, where the roads could be steep, and I might get lost.  It’s never the case, although I have gotten a little lost once or twice.  But you just have to turn the car around and head back where you came, and you’re back on track. So, on a Friday morning, noticing some cloudy weather in the forecast, which as a photographer would “make my day”, or actually my sunset and sunrise, I packed up my gear, lunch and dinner, hopped in my Jeep and set out to parts “unknown”.

My plan was to arrive in Death Valley at sunset and photograph the Mesquite Sand Dunes. I stopped a few times on the way down, watching the clouds roll in, buying gas twice, (the Jeep is a gas hog), and drove into the Valley just in time…to realize that there were hundreds of people swarming over the Dunes.  There went my visualization of pristine untrodden lines across the ridge lines of the Dunes, unless I ran, at top speed in sinking sand, way out there, (imagine me pointing about 2 miles out into the desert).  I tried, but with the sun sinking and the sky turning all kinds of pretty, I stopped, popped off a few shots and stood still just watching the color evolve.

I stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch, and had a map of Death Valley which I’d studied so I’d know where to go for sunrise and sunset.  Zabriskie Point was my sunrise location.  I woke up at 4am, headed out at 5am, found it at about 530am, headed up the little hill from the parking lot in the dark with my headlamp, set up my tripod and waited.  Sunrise is harder to predict than sunset.  You really can’t see the clouds in the sky, so you could be up and out there for nothing at all.  But this was a New Year, and at 6am, the sky started to glow !  I snapped off a few shots, then as the light came up, walked around finding my “Spot”.  As the sun peaked on the horizon, the sky light up in beautiful shades of pink, orange, yellow, and blue.  This was the perfect sunrise !  I’d never seen Zabriskie Point before, and I’ll never forget the feeling of joy that washed through me as I ran around shooting from different spots, capturing beautiful colors in a truly beautiful place.

I hiked around all day, exploring Golden Canyon, Artists Drive and Artists Palette, Mosaic Canyon, making my way back over to the Dunes.  This time I started hiking out on the Dunes around 4pm, leaving plenty of time to make it to an area where there weren’t any footprints, or so I thought.  In hindsight, I should have headed East on the Dunes, but I went straight out to the highest one, and shot from there at sunset.  I love my photos, even with the footprints.  As the sun set, I sat and enjoyed the beauty all around me.  There was a group of 20 somethings on the next dune over, laughing and enjoying the warm sand and soft light.  We waved across the Dunes, connected in peace by the golden light around us.

I shot sunrise over the Badwater Basin the next morning, and never made it to the Racetrack.  I was told by a park ranger that it was a two hour drive over a really really bumpy road, and the ground was wet, making it likely that if you did make it out there, if you walked on the ground, you’d leave permanent footprints.  That kinda sounded cool, but 2 hours of bumping each way just didn’t appeal to me. I made it home Monday afternoon, and downloaded my photos to my big screen.  Lo and behold, there was an angel in my sunrise at Zabriskie Point.  On top of the beautiful colors, I found my Guardian Angel.  She was with me the whole time, and appeared at Sunrise to remind me that life is what you make it to be.  If you sit home, wishing for things to come to you, it probably won’t happen.  You have to go out and find your life. I’m on my way.

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Endings and Beginnings

2013 was a year of turmoil for me on a personal level, but in the midst of gaining insight into life and love, I was blessed to be able to travel from Alaska to Hawaii, from Yellowstone to Florida.  It was windier than hell and I had the flu in Hawaii, my house in Florida had bees inside and out which pooped honey all over the plantation shutters just a few days before finally selling.  It rained almost everyday in Alaska, where my son and I extended our trip to celebrate his 25th birthday to fish for halibut, experiencing what seemed like 20 foot seas, catching one fish which equated to 6 pounds of dinner.  I made it into Yellowstone for three hours, then was barred from entering again with millions of other people by the government shutdown, and finally returned home to my native state to enjoy some sun and fun with my friends and family.  I’m truly glad that 2013 is over, but I have to admit, even with Murphy’s Law rearing it’s ugly head over and over again, it was an incredible adventure, and I’m ready to do it all over again.  Well, maybe not the part with the bees.

Here are my favorite photos from this year, a year of unexpected craziness.

Cherry Blossoms, Reno, Nevada
Cherry Blossoms, Reno, Nevada
Sunset on 62nd Lane, West Palm Beach, Florida
Sunset on 62nd Lane, West Palm Beach, Florida
Gradient Orange
Gradient Orange Sunset over Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Porcelain Geyser Basin sunset
Porcelain Geyser Basin, Yellowstone. The night before the government shutdown.
Ethereal©DottyMolt2013
Silver Lining Sunset over Lake Tahoe, Nevada
On Golden Spooner 96dpi
On Golden Spooner, Spooner Lake, Nevada
Aspen Jack
Aspen Jack, Nevada
West Fork Carson River Autumn
West Fork of the Carson River Autumn Colors, Nevada
Rainbow Inflation Great Reno Balloon Race
Rainbow Inflation Great Reno Balloon Race
Ice Skating Rink Canadian Geese Washoe 0213©DottyMoltPhotography2013
Canadian Geese Ice Skating Rink Washoe Lake, Nevada

The other Wine Country Autumn Color

The other Wine Country Autumn Color

Napa and Sonoma are well known around the world, and only a short four hours away from Reno, Nevada. However, there are many beautiful vineyards much closer to the Lake Tahoe area, one of which is in Amador County. Bray Vineyards is located on Shenandoah Road in Plymouth, California, and along with excellent wines, including an aptly named Red, Brazen Hussy, the fields of vines are beautifully arranged, and a great pleasure to photograph.
Many thanks to Robin Bray, owner of this lovely vineyard for allowing me to wander around with my camera for over two hours, photographing beautiful colors of Yellow, Gold, Red, orange, and everything in between.
This photo was taken at Sunset, adding a beautiful glow to the Live Oak in the foreground. The sunset itself was soft and pink, and an exquisite ending to a perfect day in the vineyards.

Air boating on Lake Okeechobee

AirBoat

I’m a Florida Native, so you’d think that I would have been riding an airboat all my life!  Not so, I’m more of a tomboy princess.  But my cousin Mike, who’s also a Florida cracker, was out riding an airboat with his Dad before he could ride a bike.  So, this year, the year of extreme photography, when he suggested we go out for a ride, I was more than willing and really excited about getting out on the water to shoot Florida from an entirely new perspective.

Mike has a hunting camp in Okeechobee, and along with riding airboats all his life, he’s an excellent hunter, fisherman, and an exceptionally patient and inspired guide.  The last time I’d been out fishing with Mikey was in 1986. That time, we headed out at 2am to catch snook, one of the best tasting fish on the planet.  It was a warm summer night, which was in complete contrast to our airboat ride. I remember thinking how peaceful and serene the water was back then, Mike knew exactly where to go, winding through the canals behind million dollar mansions, out to the Intracoastal that parallels A1A in Fort Lauderdale.

For the airboat ride, we woke up before dawn and got dressed in layers of clothing, a lot of layers because it was 35 degrees out on the water!  I think it was the coldest morning ever in Florida !  I’m surprised it didn’t snow.  We put in on Lake Okeechobee, and headed out to a marshy area where the airboat was back in the reeds, keeping the platform still enough to set up my tripod to photograph a beautiful sunrise.  As the sun came up, so did the wind, so on top of being cold, there was a wind chill factor which made it feel like it was zero degrees out.

We then headed out in search of sandhill cranes, colorful mallards, roseate spoonbills, and great blue herons.  The thrill of speeding across the water was intoxicating, turning and sweeping back and forth across the Lake, scaring up all kinds of birds.  It was a beautiful morning.  I shot about 600 photos that day, and only a few turned out, mainly because it was so windy.  The birds weren’t very happy about the cold weather, either, hiding in the brushes, or flying high in the sky.  So, I guess I’m going to have to go back again, and hopefully it won’t be so darn cold out!


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