Embrace the fog

I’ve been playing with some of the images from our trip to Oregon using the most recent version of Luminar (4) photo editor.  I am impressed with this software as it is the easiest to learn and use of any I’ve tried, and produces some very pleasant results with relatively little effort.

The challenges of photographing the Oregon coast (at least on this trip) were the ubiquitous grayness and lots of fog.  Some people love these conditions for photography because it simplifies the images, giving them a more peaceful, serene quality.

Simplistic composition — perhaps entitled “Contemplation”.  The amount of fog obscures the incoming waves as well as the nearby hill.

However, I seem to be on the other end of the aesthetic spectrum because I love color and vibrance, and lots of interesting detail to look at.

The sun was barely peeking through the dense clouds (so I helped it do that). Editing helped bring out the light on the fog rolling over the waves.  I love the repeated acute angles of waves hitting the shore.  Lots to look at here.

The unedited version of the coastal image above.  Most of the detail is lost in the fog and the colors are quite dull.

So, I tried to embrace the fog and the gray mood, but couldn’t help interjecting a little spot of color or brightness into my monochromatic scenes.  You can compare the before and after editing to see what Luminar can do — and probably could do even better with a more experienced user.

Beach sunrise, with enhanced color and detail.

The scene as it was photographed. There is nothing wrong with the camera — it’s the fog and gloom making everything appear in dark shadow.

I thought the composition was interesting enough to try to salvage this poorly lit image.  Iconic Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach must be one of the most frequently photographed scenes along the Oregon coast.  But it was pretty difficult to get a good photo of it from anywhere on the beach,  so….just embrace the fog!

Luminar allows one to insert a replacement sky in an otherwise dull background. You can blend it into the original sky and still be able to embrace the fog…  A light vignette around the outside of the image brightens it up as well.

This image has possibilities, but it’s so dark and gloomy, you can’t see the expressions on their faces.

This one was easy to edit — just brighten it up a bit. The uniform white of the foggy background works well here, keeping the image all about the kids’ joy in running through the surf with no distractions.

Tidepool consumers

Another trip to the tidepools, this time to the site where Mavericks surfing contest is held when winter storms bring 25-50 foot waves to a point off Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay.

There were no waves like this on our visit, but the tide was very low, exposing a lot of coastal tidepoools.  For more information about surf conditions here, click on the link to abcnews report, 2018.

The tide was so low, huge benches of rock encrusted with sea anemones were exposed.

A large rocky outcrop was completely uncovered at low tide, leaving small pools of sea water on top.

Shell-covered exteriors of sea anemones completely cover the rock at the side of the rocky outcrop.

A few Herring Gulls explored the pools, so we had to check them out as well.

In one pool we spotted a crab hiding under a ledge, along with numerous other shells of previous inhabitants — clams, mussels, worms, other crabs… 

If I can find the crabs, so can the gulls!

Taking it apart…the upper mandible can easily penetrate the thin carapace of the crab shell.

Down to the last bite, after flinging away the inedible parts.

Once the crab’s carapace is opened, the gull can extract it’s meal.

The end of the meal…leave the legs for some other scavenger.

Elsewhere on the beach, a Snowy Egret was wading in the tidepools checking out the fish.

The Egret swishes the water with one of its feet while it waits, and then pounces on whatever moves.

We got closer to the action at other tidepools nearer the shore.  Although there were quite a few tidepool sculpin in these pools, the Egret seemed interested in other prey.

Swishing one foot to get things moving in the tidepool…

Got it! It looks like a small eel, not a sculpin.

And down the gullet it goes, and the bird continues to stalk another one.


Another fun morning with sea life on the California coast.

Low tide at Half Moon Bay

Another timely visit to the ocean shore, this time in Northern California, just as the tide reached its lowest point and exposed wide stretches of rocky tide pools.

Monterey Cypress line the cliffs above the rocky tide pools exposed at low tide at Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, CA.

Colorful (but invasive) iceplant covers the cliff face so completely, native plants can’t compete.  Low tides always draw a crowd, especially on a sunny Saturday.

Some of the tidepools are just puddles, and some are quite large and deep. What sorts of things might you find in one of these pools?

Tidepool Sculpins are typical fish found in some of the larger pools. Their black and white coloration provides good camouflage in a rocky pool.

Sculpins are found in tidepools all along the eastern Pacific Ocean coast from the Bering Sea to Southern California.  They dart in and out of the vegetation chasing small crustacean, worm, and insect prey and have the ability to return to the same set of pools after each high tide.  If their tidepools evaporate too much during an extreme low tide, Sculpins can gulp oxygen from the air and hide out in moist vegetation until their pools fill again.

A row of globular sea anemones form a line on the bottom of one pool. They are closed up at low tide, noticeable only because of all the shell pieces they have collected on their surface to reflect sunlight and keep them cooler at low tide.  Two Hermit Crabs in black snail shells (top center) were checking out each other’s shells — to see if the neighbor’s shell might be a better fit.   A Chiton (type of mollusk) is attached to the rock in the lower left corner of the photo.  Chiton shells are composed of 8 overlapping plates that flex and bend as the animal slides over an uneven surface.

In one of the deeper pools, one sea anemone is still actively filtering the water for microorganisms. Their tentacles feel sticky when touched; when they contact a potential prey item the tentacles move to engulf it and pull it toward the central opening to their “stomach” (sort of a big open space for digestion).

Where the waves were breaking on the ocean side of the rocky shore, we could see the exposed tentacles of dinner-plate sized anemones and orange (ochre) sea stars.  Although this part of Half Moon Bay is a protected marine reserve, previous collecting in this area has markedly reduced the diversity of tidepool life here.  There should be numerous crabs, sea urchins, a variety of snails, and many different types and colors of sea stars here.

People aren’t the only tidepool explorers on this rocky beach…

Herring Gulls forage for crabs and snails at low tide. Extracting a Hermit Crab from its shell home isn’t easy though. Gulls try to extract them by pulling at their legs with their beak.  If that doesn’t work, they try dropping them or smashing them into the rock to break the shells.  It’s a small meal for a lot of work.

at the beach…

Beautiful Cannon Beach, northwest of Portland, Oregon is a walker’s and photographer’s paradise, even in cloudy, rainy weather.  It seems like you can walk for miles along the beach or drive a few miles north and walk through the headlands at Ecola State Park to view some spectacular ocean scenes.

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OR

The surf pounds on rocks quite a ways off shore, but the waves recede far out into the ocean. There are “sneaker waves” that come suddenly and without warning quite high up on the beach, but the kids can quickly outrun them.

Several jelly”fish” have washed ashore by the surf action here, but the beach sand is completely devoid of the usual shells, seaweed, or wood we usually find on a beach. Certainly no messages in a bottle…

The gigantic haystack rock is a nesting site for Tufted Puffins in the spring. Its southern side appears to have a cave hollowed out by the persistent pounding of ocean waves here.

A single rock on this otherwise pristine sand.   Is that my reflection in the bubble?

The scenic bird rocks of Cannon Beach, volcanic remnants of a once rockier cliff shoreline in northwestern Oregon.

Cannon Beach from Ecola State Park.  Fog and rain clouds make for a mystical scene.

Hiking trails at Ecola State Park wind along the coast through dense forest of Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, Sword ferns, and evergreen shrubs.

A walk in the woods…

Usually one leaves the cold northland to bask in the sun on a sandy beach, but this time we are reveling in the rainy mist of the temperate rainforest of coastal Oregon.

Fog shrouds the lofty Sitka spruce in the temperate rainforest of Neahkahnie Mountain south of Cannon Beach, Oregon, making it look like a scene from the planet Endor. (Star Wars, VI)

Like its tropical counterpart, the temperate rainforest is so wet almost all of the year that plants are crowded together and basically grow on top of each other.  The big difference is the cool temperature that makes it a very quiet place almost devoid of animal life, at least in the winter on a rainy day.  The only bird life we saw on this hike was a Pacific Wren.

Typical vegetation in the Oregon coastal temperate rainforest: sword ferns, lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, and high on the mountains — Sitka spruce.

Moss drapes itself over pine branches. Lichens drip from tree limbs as well. Plants grow on top of plants.

Fungi and slime molds can be found on the few bare areas on downed wood that ferns and mosses haven’t colonized.

Hiking in this weather is perfect, because it’s not too cold, and you don’t get overheated or dehydrated, like we do in the Sierras. (I didn’t hear a single complaint from the grandkids about this trail up Neahkahnie Mountain.)

Looking back — 2019 in pictures

What a glorious year of travel to such beautiful and interesting places.  I re-worked some of the previously posted and some new images with some new photo editing software (Luminar 4) to accent some of the interesting sites we visited.  I hope you like the results.  Please click on any of the images to see them full screen, and use your back arrow to get back to the blog post.)

From January 2019 posts on crossing the U.S. in winter, this is the central Nevada landscape in winter at sunrise.  Stark and barren of life, but gorgeous in morning light.

Sunset light in the Sonoran desert north of Tucson, in Catalina State Park (January 2019).  Amazing plant diversity here in a warm desert that gets winter rain.

A very lucky coincidence that we stumbled on a huge concentration of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache in NM, right at sunset. (January 2019)

We visited the town of Ajijic and Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara, Mexico, for pickleball camp in March. It’s always nice to escape MN winter weather for a while.

A fun rodeo at Fort Robinson, NE, in July. This was a father-daughter team of calf ropers showing off their skill.

Canyonlands National Park at sunset lights up the colorful mesas and rock formations, July 2019. It’s impossible to take a bad photo here.

Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz CA

Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, CA with youngest grandchild dancing on the sea cliff. July, 2019.

Such a pastoral scene in Lassen National Park, CA, of the dormant volcano and meadow. August 2019.

Dramatic cliffs overlooking the Crooked River, north of Bend, OR.  With Luminar photo editor, I removed most of the haze from the distance.  August, 2019.

Just as we were ready to head out on a boating adventure on the Rio Claro in the Pantanal of Brazil, the sky lit up at sunrise. Now this is why I love photo editing software like Luminar, because it recovered all the highlights and color that I remembered but were a little too dim to see in my original image. September 2019.

Vast tracts of grassland in the Pantanal region of Brazil are devoted to cattle ranches. Pantaneiro cattle are a special hybrid mix of Portuguese and Zebu (South Asian) cattle bred to survive the heat and aridity here. September, 2019.

Beautiful Cloud Lake in the Porcupine Mts State Park, MI at sunset. There were swans swimming in the lake, but I couldn’t resist adding a few to the sky above (easily done with the double exposure feature in SnapSeed).  So this is a fake — but a pretty one. 🙂  October, 2019.

The Minneapolis skyline at sunset, enhanced using presets in Luminar.  November, 2019.

Good morning snack

There are fewer deer in the backyard than usual this winter — whether due to natural fluctuations in their numbers or to culling them from surburbia, I’m not sure.  I always wonder how the deer get enough to eat in the winter when they are forced to eat such low quality forage like evergreens, twigs of shrubs, and dried up perennials and annuals.

Conifers in general are known for their unpalatability. The most edible parts (seeds) are long gone, having been harvested by all the squirrels in the backyard.  Spiny needles and the resinous sap that remain are all designed to deter herbivores from munching on them.  Nevertheless, poor forage is better than no forage, as they say.

Deer munching probably sets young coniferous plants back in their growth. But there aren’t many choices in the winter environment for a hungry deer.

But sometimes, there is a treat worth checking out, just waiting in the backyard for the savvy deer.

All that spilled seed from the hungry birds makes a nice snack. 

Last year the bird feeder was on a shorter pole, and with three feet of snow on the ground, the deer just walked up to it, bit off all the plastic perches, pulled the feeder off the pole, and had a good time taking it apart for the seed inside.  This year, a bit wiser, I put a smaller feeder (just for the local chickadees, nuthatches, etc.) up on a longer pole that the deer won’t be able to reach (I hope — but that depends on how much snow we get).

I took a walk out in the back of the back yard (an open space of ponds and cottonwood forest) and found some fresh remains of one unfortunate deer. I an curious what animals took the meat off this part of the carcass. Would coyotes and foxes do this good a job of removing flesh? A big chunk of skin was lying nearby.

A holiday wish

May your holiday be filled with love, laughter, and joy in celebrating with family and friends, and may we all learn to just get along a little better with each other in the coming year.

Thank you, oh faithful readers, for following this blog!

Family hike to Phipps Peak, Desolation Valley, CA, July 2019.

Gray day, colorful birds!

Gray days in the winter dampen one’s mood, but they are great for photography.  The outdoor temperatures can be 10-20 degrees warmer than on a clear, sunny day, which means the birds are likely to be more active.  But the lack of strong light and dark contrast on a gray day seems to enhance the details in colorful birds that would otherwise get lost in glare and shadow.

Since we are back to our semi-monochromatic landscape of white and brown, a little color in the landscape is always welcome.

Mr. Cardinal is fluffed up in 20 F temperatures, which will seem balmy to man and bird in a couple of months!  Cardinals are red (mostly), but look how many shades of red they really are.

I filled the peanut feeder, so of course, the Blue Jays were quick to pick up several at a time and fly off to stash them for later enjoyment.  If you were going to color a blue jay accurately, how many colors would you need?

after the blue hour…

the city comes alive with lights while the backyard goes to sleep, or at least some creatures in the backyard sleep after the blue hour.

In preparation for photographing the lights of the holiday season and the Christmas markets of Europe, a friend and I tried to capture the transition from Blue Hour to night from the Stone Arch bridge looking toward the Minneapolis skyline.

Dodging pedestrians, runners, and bicycles on the bridge, here is what we saw.

A foggy day an hour or two before sunset on the Stone Arch bridge.

Capturing the city bathed in sunset lights was an impossibility on this foggy day, so there was early onset of monochromatic blue after official sunset time (4:40 p.m.).  It’s only 5:20 p.m.

The city begins to light up, as the skyline floors of the IDS building come on. It’s 5:48 p.m.

Building lights and signs begin to illuminate the cityscape as the light begins to dim more quickly.  It’s 5:55 p.m.

Less than two hours after official sunset time, the buildings are outlined with lights  that cast a yellow-pink glow in the sky above.  It’s 6:18 p.m.  And now it was so dark, I had to use the side railing of the bridge to stabilize my monopod for the 1 second exposure.

There was some biology observed before the photo session began.  Just as we stepped on the bridge, Debbie spotted a hawk perched in a tree right next to the bridge railing.  Apparently, having just finished a meal, it looked at us, wiped its beak, pooped, and flew off.

Possibly a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk, not happy to see us focusing our cameras on it.