Harbor Seals At Pescadero State Beach

A harbor seal looks toward the beach from an offshore rock outcropping, Pescadero State Beach, California.

I always enjoy photo locations that offer more than one possibility for a successful photo. Such was the case on a recent morning I spent at Pescadero State Beach for a sunrise landscape shoot. Being along the coast, I knew that chances for wildlife were high, and so I lugged my wildlife/bird lens along with me, even though I was hoping for a magical coastal sunrise shot.

Arriving about 45 minutes before dawn, I hiked up to a vantage point overlooking sea stacks just offshore. By shooting due south, I was hoping to get some wave action around the stacks, with a colorful backdrop of winter sunrise colors. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were not with me, and I got a dull glow to the east and suddenly it was daytime. No sunrise colors, no landscape keepers, nothing.

Harbor seals compete for lounging space on an offshore rock, Pescadero State Beach, California.
Harbor seals compete for lounging space on an offshore rock, Pescadero State Beach, California.

As it got lighter, I scanned the offshore rocks and saw several groups of harbor seals clustered away from the roaring ocean. Getting these guys on camera was only a quick walk back to the car to retrieve my wildlife gear. Once re-set up, I waited for another 15 minutes until it got light enough to really start in earnest.

A harbor seal looks toward the beach from an offshore rock outcropping, Pescadero State Beach, California.
A harbor seal looks toward the beach from an offshore rock outcropping, Pescadero State Beach, California.

Fifteen minutes later I was done and moved on to look for interesting coastal birds. As it was a quiet morning, I soon moved on to more important activities, namely breakfast!

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

Roosevelt Elk At Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

Earlier this fall, my wife Kerry and I took a trip up to Redwood National and State Parks in northern California. As we got up to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, we stopped at Elk Meadow, a popular spot to see one of the few herds of Roosevelt Elk that survive in and around the Redwood parks.

A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.
A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

As it was fall, we were treated to witnessing rutting season, the time of year where bull elks assert their dominance in the quest for female attention. It was readily apparent who the big, dominant bull was, decoratively adorned with straw hanging from his antlers. The regularity of his bugles told us that he had a high opinion of himself!

A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.
A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

After a while he realized his vocalizations were having no effect on his fellow elk. Obviously, he needed more straw! He quickly set about redecorating himself.

A male Roosevelt elk sits in a pile to hay, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.
A male Roosevelt elk sits in a pile to hay, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

Exhausted from his efforts of showing off, he took a bit of a snooze in the grass.

Roosevelt elk is the largest of the four surviving subspecies of elk in North America. Today Roosevelt elk in California persist only in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, and western Siskiyou County. Seven elk herds call Redwood National and State Parks home, although at times these herds become loose aggregations of smaller groups. Although this is a pretty easy large mammal to see in North America, I always delight at their antics, whether it is during the fall rut or the spring calving season.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

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.