Burney Falls

Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.
Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.
Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.

Burney Falls is located in Northern California in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. It is a beautifully wide waterfall, dropping 129 feet into a tree-lined grotto below. Even in the summer months, when most other creeks in the area have withered or dried up to nothing, this falls keeps up its steady flow rate. This is because the water originates from an underground spring not far upstream from the falls itself.

Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.
Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.

There are many ways to photograph the falls, from the grand view taken above the falls, to more intimate closeups of rivulets running over bright green moss. It is important to shoot waterfalls with a tripod – that way you can use longer exposures and blur the water into a glossy silk texture. Down in the grotto, it was dark enough to let the exposure run over a second, giving me the desired look.

Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.
Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.

One challenge was to balance bright hot spots of light reflecting off the water with the dark shadows within the rocks. Luckily a quick check of the histogram on the back of my camera told me that I was able to capture the entire dynamic range of the scene in a single shot, and so I exposed to the right, getting as bright an exposure as possible without blowing out the highlights. This was corrected in post processing, giving me an amazing amount of detail in the shadows.

I’d love to go back and shoot this scene in early, pre-dawn light, which would give me soft even lighting across the entire scene. The quick visit left me thinking of many other compositions I could use to better cover the variety seen in this beautiful falls.

2015 Round-up – Top 40 Photos Of The Year

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

I recently finished compiling my top 40 picks from the last 12 months. The gallery is an assortment of my various trips and outings, including trips to India, Mexico and Canada. As always, there is a mixture of bird, wildlife and landscape, including some previously unpublished.

Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

To view the gallery, click here to see individual photos.


If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 lists.

Bandon Sunsets

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

This spring I made a trip with a friend to photograph the area around Bandon, Oregon. Bandon is a very popular golf destination, and in recent years has become a gathering point for many photographers. Mornings and evenings can see dozens of tripod wielding forms roaming up and down the beach, searching for that unique perspective. Here are a collection of sunset photographs I made over the course of several days.

The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.
The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.

While I was there, I was blessed with some reasonable low tides at sunrise, but unfortunately, most sunsets coincided with higher tides, moving me further away from some of the spectacular sea stacks for which this area is known. However, you always have to work with what nature gives you, and I used the varied tides to give me a wider variety of images.

In the shot above, I worked with a lower tide, which allowed me to use a wide angle and get very close to the foreground rock. This gave the beach a lot of depth, and pulled the sea stacks farther into the background.

However, in the shot below, the tide was in much further. This allowed me to use a longer lens and compress the rocks together, giving much more weight to the background sea stacks.

The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.
The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.

In the hour before sunset, I moved closer to one of the sea stacks and played with sun stars along the edge of its silhouette. The sinking sun forced me to constantly change my tripod position, but it helped to have a vertical line to play against. This gave me many more opportunities than if the sun sank behind a horiztonal-oriented object. To catch a good sun star, you have to use a stopped down aperture and catch a light source right on the edge of an obstruction.

The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.
The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.

Unfortunately for much of the trip, we had clear skies in the evening. We did get the sunset glow over the horizon, but the color interest faded to dull grayish orange as you moved up in the sky. This kept most of my compositions low to the horizon, choosing instead to catch the color interplay of red and blues in the moving waves.

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

It always helps to get a variety of lens lengths to capture a subject in different ways. In the shot above, I used a long telephoto to compress the waves and rocks together, creating a more graphical image. In the shot below, I went much wider, including more of the sky and much more of the incoming waves.

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

In all this was a sometimes frustrating trip due to the weather. Many mornings were socked in with fog and the evenings saw blown out clear skies. But trying to pull variety out of the location is always a challenge I strive to overcome. I know I’ll be back to this location in the future, hoping for more changing conditions and weather variety.

Try, try, and try again

Waddell Creek flows through a green forest along the Berry Creek Falls trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Waddell Creek flows through a green forest along the Berry Creek Falls trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

One of the keys for any budding photographer is to shoot often, and stay well organized. You never know when photos you have taken in the past might some day become marketable. Several years ago, I shot a series of photographs on spec for a national magazine, including the photo you see here. Shooting on spec means that the magazine is requesting a photo with particular specifications, but has not given you an assignment and guaranteed publication. This is something I wouldn’t recommend unless it is almost no cost to you (including time spent!). My brother graciously volunteered to come along an be my model for the day.

Unfortunately, the magazine didn’t use my photographs for the intended article (in fact, I don’t know if they ended up running that article at all). This happens all too often with editorial publishing, which is why shooting on spec is almost never a good idea, especially if photography is your primary source of income. However, a couple of years later, that same national magazine did print one photo from this outing for a different article, and just recently another magazine is looking at these photos for publication as well.

The only way this was possible was for my photos to be well organized so they were easy to submit for other uses over the years. This means they were well captioned, titled, and tagged with keywords. Even though the original intent for the photos fell through, they were still very usable and have become part of my photo archive. Who knows when one of these photos will be used again in the future?