A World With Octobers

Philip Reedy replicated our Thanksgiving Day tradition by creating a video of his favorite photographs from this past autumn.

Phil had a lot of beauty from which to choose. He produced 127 submissions in 26 different articles, as the top contributor of 88 color spotters in 2020. Phil’s photographs remind us why it gladdens the heart that we live in a world where there are Octobers.

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Still Life

White alder, smooth whiteleaf manzanita, Upper Sacramento River, Conant (12/3/20) Philip Reedy

After these images arrived from the Upper Sacramento River, photographed by Philip Reedy, I accused him of transforming himself from a magazine cover photographer to a gallery photographer.

Oregon ash, Upper Sacramento River, Conant (12/3/20) Philip Reedy

Phil was out on one of his many trips scouting locations and photographing possible covers for fly fishing magazines.

White alder, Upper Sacramento River, Conant (12/3/20) Philip Reedy

Yet, he spent a few moments away from the river to notice these images of autumn waning.

Phil wrote, “I started at Sims Flat for the nice view of Mt Shasta, then on the Castella so see what remained of the colors along the river.  From there I hit Conant and there were a lot of gorgeous leaves along the railroad tracks.  The leaves were all on the ground at the Castle Crags picnic area, but they were fringed with frost and quite lovely.  

“Scott Embrey and I made the drive down to Ash Camp just below the dam on Lake McCloud.  I went mainly went to work on fly fishing pictures, but there were bright orange leaves on the ground everywhere.  This looks like it could be excellent in October, next year.”

The area is definitely past peak. Though, as is obvious from Phil’s photographs, even after the forest has dropped nearly all its leaves, there is still life to be found.

For those who must know, the uppermost photograph was taken by a Nikon D850, 1/40 sec at f16, ISO 200, 24-70mm f2.8 lens at 50mm.

  • Upper Sacramento River – Past Peak, You Missed It.
  • McCloud River – Past Peak, You Missed It.
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Side by Side

When two similarly experienced photographers accompany one another on the same shoot, to the same locations, at the same moments and with exactly the same equipment. You might expect sameness.

There is similarity between these side-by-side images, because Philip Reedy and I convoyed north Friday morning to photograph fall color and migratory birds at the same locations at the same time. We each carried the same bodies and lenses: Nikon D850 cameras with Nikkor 200-500mm, f. 5.6 lenses. The similarity ended there.

Driving separately, out of shared pandemic precaution, we arrived soon after dawn at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. Phil voiced what I’d been thinking, “There were several times when we were driving through Live Oak that I wanted to stop, because the light was so good.”

He was right, we should have stopped. We’d just passed huge blocks of walnut trees, heavy with golden leaves, and I’d similarly wanted to pull over. Phil noted an orchard that had been carpeted with gold.

Lesson learned: When the light is perfect, stop and take pictures right then. Great light is what’s important, not what you plan to be the subject.

Upon arriving at Gray Lodge, thousands of birds lifted off in one massive, morning-light, mass ascension as they sought rice fields elsewhere. We’d missed it by a moment.

Filled with regret not stopping first in Live Oak, we circled Gray Lodge realizing the birds that remained weren’t leaving, a good scene for birders but not for us. So we headed back beside a long line of trees fronting Rutherford Rd, then north 20 miles to our second objective, Agua Frias Rd. Robert Kermen had drawn a map indicating where he’d seen Sandhill Cranes foraging. They chose to be elsewhere that day, but where?

Just when we’d struck out, we made new luck, stopping at a backlit Walnut Orchard. Phil saw it as filled with golden light; I saw it as darkly shaded with fluorescent- banded trunks.

“We’ve gone a good ways north,” Phil observed, “Almost to Chico.” I responded, “There’s a good place near here, juse south of Chico. It’s an archway of trees overhanging Midway Rd.” And, we were off.

I told the story. Phil showed the beauty.

Encouraged, we decided to head back toward Live Oak. Maybe those walnut orchards we’d seen would still be good. The experience in the orchard on Agua Frias Rd. taught us light can be soft, not harsh, beneath the canopy.

I found a time-worn orchard shed . Phil found an orchard layered with leaves.

It was after noon, but there was still one more place to visit on the return home, the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge near I-5. We’d visited it last year at the same time, but were there soon after daybreak, not this late. I set the Nav which cut us cross-country along backroads around the Sutter Buttes toward Colusa. Then on E. Butte Rd. it happened. I saw Sandhill Crane in a rice field.

Sandhill Cranes, Sutter Buttes (11/20/20) John Poimiroo

They were wary. A car or truck passing on E. Butte Rd. didn’t bother them, but stop and they moved away. This image was taken at 500mm, a hundred yards from the cranes and standing behind my SUV. Any closer and they’d walk elsewhere.

Phil shot using his car as a blind, but was hoping for more action. We got it soon after when we stopped a few rice paddies south. There, the geese we’d seen ascending that morning from Gray Lodge were spread out across the paddy. No sooner had we stopped and set up, than …

Mass Ascension, Snow geese, Sutter Buttes (11/20/20) John Poimiroo
Mass Ascension, Snow geese, Sutter Buttes (11/20/20) Philip Reedy

We eventually got to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, where photographers said there hadn’t been much action. So, we joined them in shooting pictures of a few ducks on logs by the birder’s platform. A brrr of motor drives would whine occasionally when a duck flew in to land. We were told the Snow Geese hadn’t shown up. They were elsewhere.

Note: Following our return, Phil was disappointed in the sharpness of his photos. He thought it was the lens, but when he discovered a UV filter on the lens (which he hadn’t noticed previously), took it off and took side-by-side comparison shots, the reason for blurriness was evident.

Lesson learned: If you use protective filters on your long lenses, remove them before taking photographs!

  • Walnut Orchards, Gridley, Live Oak (95′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sacramento Valley National Wildlife Refuges (49′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

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The Image Imagined

Black oak, Yosemite Valley (11/12/20) Elliot McGucken
Black oak, Yosemite Valley (11/12/20) Elliot McGucken

It’s those autumn days following a dusting of snow when Yosemite Valley gets confusing. Is it autumn or is it winter?

Elliot McGucken’s photos, taken yesterday on his return from Utah (boy, he gets around), didn’t settle the matter. They created more questions.

Gates of the Valley, Yosemite National Park (11/12/20) Elliot McGucken
Gates of the Valley, Yosemite National Park (11/12/20) Elliot McGucken
Gates of the Valley, Yosemite National Park (11/12/20) Elliot McGucken
El Capitan, Merced River, Gates of the Valley (11/12/20) Elliot McGucken

The various ways Elliot exposed Gates of the Valley on a given day, in evolving conditions and light opened additional questions about how a photographer perceives a scene, interprets it and produces a statement.

In some frames, McGucken works the light as presented. In others, he interprets it, painting with vibrance, shadows, highlights and saturation. Ansel Adams did the same thing with black and white.

Adams would often previsualize an image, plan, then shoot and print it later, as imagined. But, that wasn’t always possible in the field.

On spontaneous occasions, he would work with light as presented, using tools (film, filters, lenses and processing) to produce the image imagined.

Half Dome, Merced River, Photographer’s Bridge (11/12/20) Elliot McGucken

In this set, McGucken presents both the documentary and the interpretive approach … the image captured and the image imagined.

  • Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

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Indian Creek, Indian Valley, CA-89 (10/31/20) Michael Beatley

There’s an aspect of composition that is often overlooked by photographers. Perhaps the photograph needs further reflection.

Still autumn days are often perfect for reflection, in more ways than one. Michael Beatley found these moody scenes along Indian Creek near CA-89, eight miles west of Quincy.

CA-89, Indian Valley, Plumas County (10/31/20) Michael Beatley

As declared here last week when it was named “Peak of the Week,” the Indian Valley has, Michael reports, “exploded with peak color. Peak viewing time for reflections is 2:30 to 4:30pm. Oaks, alder, grasses, Indian Rhubarb are showing off their colors.  The weather is perfect, with clear blue skies.”

Along a ridgeline above Indian Valley lies the profile of a reclining Maidu chiefton, facing the sky. At left (above) is his chin, then to the right, his nose, brow and headdress.

We wonder what he’s reflecting upon as his valley peaks.

  • Indian Valley, Plumas County – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Best In The West: Philip Reedy

Black oak and bigleaf maple detritus, Mossbrae Falls, Dunsmuir (10/25/19) Philip Reedy

CaliforniaFallColor.com contributor Philip Reedy was recognized as one of the Best in the West in the recent Outdoor Writers Association (OWAC) Excellence in Craft Awards for his photographic work in multiple categories.

The OWAC press release, received today stated, “Reedy won Best Outdoor Action Photograph for his image “Advice from Grandpa” published in the Trout Unlimited 2020 Calendar (July) and also took first place in the Best Outdoor Medium category with Southwest Fly Fishing magazine. For his Northwest Fly Fishing magazine cover he received second place honors in Best Outdoor Feature Photograph, as well as second place in Best Outdoor Photographic Series for images published on the Worldwide Web at Californiafallcolor.com

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As Good As It Gets

Red Lake Creek Cabin (10/14/20) Steve McCarthy

The aspen behind Red Lake Creek Cabin a mile west of the junction of Blue Lakes Rd and CA-88 continue to develop. More intense orange is showing, and those up on the hillside are Near Peak. As Steve McCarthy’s photo (taken today) demonstrates, it’s about as good as it gets.

If you live in Northern California, rise before sunrise and drive there to arrive at approx. 7:45 a.m. From then until 9 a.m. it should be beautiful.

It’s now prime and will probably stay that way only through the weekend, diminishing each day.

Photo tips: mount camera to a sturdy tripod, release shutter with the camera timer or a cable release, experiment with varied sized lenses – wide angle, medium, tele, set your ISO below 250, put the camera on aperture setting and meter for depth of field (small f stop) – this will mean a long exposure, and – finally – respect fellow photogs. When you’ve got it, release your place for next waiting. Most of all, have fun.

  • Red Lake Creek Cabin, Hope Valley – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Hope From Above

Hope Valley (10/12/20) Philip Reedy

When Philip Reedy alerted me that he planned to visit the Hope Valley on Monday to avoid the crowds, I didn’t understand just how far he’d go.

Hope Valley Panoramic (10/12/20) Philip Reedy

Most of those who visit the valley along CA-88, south of Lake Tahoe, are pretty much terrestrial. Phil left the highway and hiked uphill, providing fresh perspectives on fall color from the heavens.

Hope Valley (10/12/20) Philip Reedy
  • Hope Valley (7,300′) – Peak 975-100%) GO NOW!

Autumn Sunset

Sunset, Sonora Pass (10/10/20) Elliot McGucken
Sunset, Sonora Pass (10/10/20) Elliot McGucken

These photographs are of the same sunset. One was taken before the sun set (above). The other, soon after it had (below).

Getting images like these requires scouting the location in advance, understanding where the sun will set, when it will set and how it might illuminate foliage and the landscape, planning to shoot on a partly cloudy day, getting to the pre-scouted photo location well before the sun sets and staying throughout its descent, setting up your camera properly (ISO, lens, tripod, body, trigger release, shutter speed, aperture and other controls relevant to it), dressing warmly and dryly, and having something to eat, drink and comfortable to sit on while you wait for the moment.

I imagine that Elliot McGucken did all these things, or most of them. It also helps to have a little bit of luck, though luck is the one thing you don’t control.


Reflections of Hope

Red Barn, CA-88 (10/11/20) Laxman Murugesh

This past weekend proved to be a good one to visit the Hope Valley, and it’s gonna stay good – unless there’s an unfortunate change in weather – for another two weeks.

On Sunday, as I pulled up across from Caples Lake Dam, Laxman Murugesh introduced himself. He’d been out, as recommended, and the beam across his face told what he’d found … almost as good as these pictures.

Red Lake Creek Cabin (10/10/20) Elliot McGucken

Elliot McGucken visited Hope Valley the previous day. Broken clouds moved across the sky, scouring away the haze and dropping shadows upon the landscape.