, ,

Nikon Asks, “Who’s Tops?”

Pinot Noir, Durrell Vineyards, Sonoma County (10/12/19) Risa Wyatt

Nikon USA is holding its fifth “Top Spots for Fall Foliage Competition.”

The competition is a nationwide crowdsourced campaign on Nikon USA’s social media channels to determine which state has the best fall color.

Michigan has won it for the past three years. The winner is based on the number of fall color photos posted to social media with the hashtag, #NikonFallCA. That’s California’s hashtag.

In a month, Nikon will tally the photos from each state and announce the winning state, during the week of November 18.

So, where is the top spot for fall foliage? It’s California, of course … #NikonFallCA.

Fall and Flannel

Magnets hidden beneath false buttons allow MagnaReady shirts to open or closed, easily.

If ever a fabric is associated with a season, it is flannel with fall.

Soft and light, yet warm, flannel fits autumn. It is comfortable, outdoorsy and the perfect weight for days that vary from chilly to warm, then back to chilly again.

Now, MagnaReady introduces a line of flannel shirts that open and close through the use of magnets hidden below false buttons. The magnets allow the shirt to click together easily, while still providing the style and durability of a buttoned shirt.

The shirts were designed to help those with difficulty undoing and closing buttons, but they’re a boon to photographers and nature viewers who otherwise have their hands full and could use a little help loosening or closing a button.

By layering MagnaReady’s flannel shirt with a tee, greater versatility and warmth is provided on days when it’s chilly in the morning and evening, and warm midday. Also, the magnetic buttons, hidden beneath real buttons, make it convenient to loosen or close the shirt while in the field.

MagnaReady’s shirts come in a number of stylish patterns, fabrics and colors for men, women and children. They can be purchased online at magnaready.com and through major online retailers.

, ,

Identifying NorCal Plants

Plants of Northern California, Falcon Guides

With more than 7,000 species of native plants in California, it’s easy to misidentify one. As a journalist, not a scientist, I’ve made more than a few wrong identifications on this site. Hopefully, few misidentifications are still posted here, though – admittedly – I come across one, now and then. When I do, I correct it.

However, when you combine California’s native species to the thousands of non-native (exotic) plants in our gardens, parks and cities, it’s easy to imagine the difficulty involved in reporting accurately 100% of the time.

In order to identify obscure plants, I’ve sent photos of them to naturalists, botanists and foresters who’ve then identified them, but that takes time. So, increasingly, I refer to books and sites for answers. Recent additions to my library are field guides published by Falcon Guides.

In a previous post, I referenced Dr. Eva Begley’s Plants of Northern California. It illustrates, through color photography and text, native plants that grow west of the Sierra Nevada. This area includes the north San Francisco Bay, North Coast, Klamath and Cascade Ranges, and the Sacramento Valley.

Trees, Falcon Pocket Guide

Sierra Nevada Wildflowers, Falcon Guides

In the book, species are organized by color and family, and text describes their blooming period, elevation and habitat, plant characteristics, and other interesting facts. It is particularly useful in identifying flowering plants.

What has often bothered me about some field guides is that they’re written for scientists by scientists. So, common plants are often omitted, I suppose, because the author might think they’re so common that everyone must know what they are.

Dr. Begley did not make that mistake. Ordinary, as well as extraordinary plants are illustrated with sharp, colorful photographs and simple, direct and helpful text.

Falcon Guides even thought to print a ruler on the back cover, to help take the guesswork out of measuring blooms in the field and includes a glossary of terms (e.g., pinnate) that might otherwise be confusing to users.

Plants of Northern California has little within it to help in identifying deciduous trees or Sierra Nevada plants, though combine it with Falcon’s pocket guide Trees by Todd Telander and Sierra Nevada Wildflowers by Karen Wiese, and you have solid foundation of reference materials that will help you identify California plants when searching for California Fall Color. 


Trekking in Snow and Woods

Hillsound Amadillo XT Gaiters (file photo) Mike Crane

An indispensable item for outdoor trekking is a set of gaiters. Designed to wrap around the lower leg, gaiters keep snow and trail debris from saturating pants and out of boots.

Hillsound Armadillo LT (file photo) Mike Crane

That means you can wear cotton jeans or light pants (layering is recommended) without concern that pant legs will get soaked and become uncomfortable to stay outside taking pictures, without having to put on and take off bulky snow pants. Gaiters are also a smart addition to golden-hour photography or when photographing near streams, lakes or in woods where it’s moist.

Of course, they’re best known as gear used by snowshoers and backwoods XC skiers. So, with a major winter storm now dropping from seven to eight feet of fresh snow in the Sierra Nevada, ideal conditions were available to test Hillsound’s new Armadillo LT Gaiters.

Easy to put on and so comfortable that you’d hardly know you’re wearing them, the Armadillo LT Gaiters were so water resistant that legs and socks stayed bone-dry and warm, even in deep powder. Imagine how much more comfortable you’d be when photographing fall color at sunrise or sunset.

Hillsound makes its gaiters of 1000 denier nylon on the bottom half and breathable Flexia, a three-layer fabric, on the upper half. The 1000D lowers resist punctures (useful when wearing crampons), while the Flexia uppers provide four-way stretch and protection from the elements. Though designed for wet conditions, the Armadillo LT’s breathable fabric makes these gaiters  comfortable to wear, year-round.

There’s no wardrobe malfunction that ruins a day of winter photography more than discovering a gaiter has come loose or slipped down. On the Armadillo LT, a waterproof YKK zipper gives a contour fit that won’t fall down or need to be readjusted during outdoor activity, and a sturdy boot-lace hook adds stability and ensures the gaiter won’t shift off boot or shoe. The Armadillo LT’s durable instep strap also won’t wear out or fall off, no matter how long you stay out.

The Hillsound Armadillo LT fits men and women in all sizes, is priced affordably at $49 and comes with a lifetime warranty. They’re sold online at Hillsound.com and at top outdoor retailers.

The Armadillo LT is an indispensable item of outdoor gear that should be in every camera bag.

Traveling Lightly

Cotton Carrier G3 Strapshot

For the outdoor photographer who intends to travel lightly, Cotton Carrier’s G3 Strapshot secures a DSLR with long lens to the shoulder strap of a backpack.

The G3 Strapshot’s compact holster velcro-wraps around any backpack’s shoulder strap and is kept from sliding down by a pull strap that loops through the top handle of the backpack.

I used a Strapshot when photographing the International Sportsman’s Exposition in Sacramento this month. Securing the Strapshot to the left shoulder strap of a Lowe Pro Mini Trekker AW backpack, I was able to unhook the camera from the shoulder with my right hand, for ready shooting, and the weight of a Nikon D850 with a Nikkor 28-300 mm lens was hardly noticed.

Cotton Carrier’s system mounts an anodized hub to the tripod screw hole on the bottom of the camera. The hub then slides and locks into the holster by turning it to the side, then letting the lens swing down, once in the mount. To protect cameras from being dropped, the Strapshot comes with a grip handstrap and a quick-release safety tether that snaps to the holster.

CCS G3 Strapshot

Set up is simple and quick. And, it took little time to get used to twisting and locking the camera into the holster. The mounting hub also has a tripod screw hole on it, so that tripods can still be used, when needed.

When not using a backpack, the Strapshot can be carried on the hip by passing a belt through loops behind the holster, though when a heavier camera is carried, a Sam Browne Belt is advised to distribute its weight. Cotton Carriers sells a DEMO Action Belt ($15) for this situation.

In all, Cotton Carrier’s G3 Strapshot is a compact accessory that permits carrying a camera for ready use without need of gear other than a belt or backpack. The CCS G3 Strapshot comes in charcoal grey or camo and retails for $79 at B&H, Adorama and online at CottonCarrier.com.


, , ,

Mass Ascension

Mass ascension, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Redtail hawk, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Redtail hawk, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

When a “mass ascension” occurs at one of the Sacramento Valley’s many wetlands, rice patties or wildlife refuges, virtually tens of thousands of birds lift off all at once.

They take to the air when predators (bald eagle, redtail hawks and falcons) approach.

Similar to the effect of the flashing silver and black flanks of fish in their schools, the swirling mass of white and dark wings in a mass ascension confuses raptors and makes it more difficult for them to snare a meal.

Mass ascensions are breathtaking sights that are often seen, in autumn, north of Sacramento.

Kermen knew to visit a wetland, south of Durham. If you open the California Fall Color map on the right side of this page and search for Durham or Colusa, anywhere you see large ponds of water are sure to be gathering places for waterfowl. For the easiest viewing, visit the Sacramento Valley National Wildlife Refuge or Colusa NWR. Roads pass through both of them and your vehicle serves as your “blind.” Bring binoculars and, if photographing, a telephoto lens and tripod or window camera mount (which turns your car into a tripod).

White-fronted Geese, Durham (11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Snowy egret, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Close up photographs of wildlife are best captured with digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras using lenses greater than 300 mm.

A 400mm lens is considered to be an ideal length when starting to shoot wildlife. However, long lenses – particularly those with larger apertures that will take sharp pictures in low light – come with a hefty price tag. For example, Nikon’s 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens (admittedly, a very expensive lens) costs over $11,000 (Canon’s similar lens is $1,000 less).

Snow Geese, Durham (11/25/17) Robert Kermen

Considering the high cost of telephoto lenses with large aperture settings, starting amateur wildlife photographers might consider first purchasing a zoom lens in the range of from 100 to 500mm, but with a smaller aperture setting, such as a Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 ($1,400) or Canon 100-400mm f5.6 ($1,200).

Another way to increase focal length is to add a teleconverter to a smaller focal length lens (about $300 for a 2x teleconverter). They do not provide the sharpness of a set lens, but are not budget breakers and result in fine photographs that impress, if you’re not selling your work or making gallery-quality prints.

For clarity, a smaller f-stop means a larger aperture, while a larger f-stop means a smaller aperture.

Bald eagle (middle right, sitting) (11/22/17) Robert Kermen

With these options, you will lose the ability to shoot action in lower light conditions, but can more affordably begin shooting wildlife and thus gain experience before making the investment on a more expensive lens.

For these shots, Kermen used a Canon 80D with 70-200mm f4L IS USM lens, which he keeps at hand on the console of his vehicle, so that he doesn’t miss a great shot when motoring along one of California’s backroads.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Clakit StrapPack

Clakit StrapPack

Have you ever had to unpack your camera bag or backpack to find a cell phone or wallet?

The developer of the Clakit Clip was hiking California’s mountains (hopefully looking for fall color) when he realized he was constantly searching the bottom of his bag for something. That inspired his developing a durable universal clip and series of companion pouches that can be attached to shoulder straps up to 3″ wide.

Clakit Clip

The key is the Clakit Clip, a self-ratcheting nylon clip that uses pressure and pins to securely grip the shoulder strap and that adapts to varied Clakit pouches (for cell phones, water bottles, handheld radios, GPS devices, and other items) or other belt loop carriers.

It’s ideal for getting to small items, like: phones, glasses, lens cloths, ID cards, snacks, payment cards, notebooks, keys, pocket tools, flashlights, water bottles and other things you might need at a moment’s notice.

We tested the Clakit StrapPack, which has two zippered, padded compartments and a front flap pocket secured by velcro. At 7″ x 4″ x 1.5″, the StrapPack easily and protectively accommodated an iPhone 8 Plus, ID cards, credit cards, a pen, photographer’s notebook and cash.

The Clakit Clip held the StrapPack snugly to the shoulder strap on a LowePro camera backpack and NorthFace day pack. And, the StrapPack made it easy to get to what was inside… no more digging around or removing a backpack to answer a phone or pay for lunch.

StrapPack seen from behind

When the backpack was no longer needed, the StrapPack can be removed easily from the clip and secured by one’s side with a belt. For anyone who doesn’t carry a purse, the StrapPack consolidates phone and wallet into one compact and secure pouch that can be clipped to shoulder strap or belt.

Priced at $20, the Clakit StrapPack is a holiday gift that just about anyone can use and enjoy. To buy one or learn more, visit Clakit.com.


Fall Photo Contest

Win an 18 x 24″ canvas wrapped print of your winning fall color photo and a $149 Cotton Carrier G3 Harness, by uploading your best fall color photos to www.CottonCarrier.com.

The winning photo will be voted upon by Cotton Carrier’s website users (your friends and our readers included).  One photo may be entered per week, per photographer. Deadline Nov. 15. Photographers retain the rights to their work.

The promotion brings attention to Cotton Carrier’s new camera harness that secures DSLR and mirrorless cameras to a breathable, ergonomic frame for all-day comfort.

The new G3 holster uses a patented locking system to secure camera to a backpack strap for hands-free accessibility while strolling city streets or navigating mountain trails. New features include a quick release safety tether, belt attachment and new colors.

Let’s vote for a CaliforniaFallColor.com photographer to win.

If you enter, send a .jpg of your shot, where it was taken and your name to: editor@californiafallcolor.com.  We’ll post all photographs here and encourage readers to vote for them. Photos do not need to have been taken recently, so past photographs are eligible.