I spent a few days in September of 2014 to photograph the Big Sur region of California’s central coast. A small waterfall called McWay Falls at beach attracted my attention. I decided to stay with it to shot the sunset. Big Sur, however, is known for its constantly cloudy, foggy weather. The evening hour around sunset was predictably cloudy. The sunset was disappointing. But I still stayed a couple of hours after sunset, hoping the cloud would clear up so I can take some night shots. The magic did not happen. So I left scene to drive back to my hotel in Monterey Bay.While I was driving on the twisting mountain road, all the sudden I felt that there were some stars visible in the sky. I pulled over. To my delight, the sky was clearing up. I went back to my hotel, slept two hours, got up and drove an hour in the dark back to the waterfall. Now the sky was totally clear. It was so clear that I can see Milky Way with my naked eyes. I knew this was my lucky day.
I spent so much time there the previous day. So the composition was straightforward even in the complete darkness. I took two shots, one for the sky and one for the foreground. I tilted camera upward slightly for the sky shot to include more sky while tilting it down for foreground shot, with the intention to stitch them together for a 1:1 aspect ratio. After taken the shots, I realized that foreground was too dark. So I left the camera on the tripod untouched, and waited another two hours or so in the dark. At about one hour before sunrise, it started to have some light in sky and foreground became visible to the eyes. I took the third shot, just for the foreground. Back at home, I stitched first two shots together and cropped the image to 1:1 ratio. Then I aligned the third shot just to blend in the areas I wanted to show more foreground details.
Almost a year later, in July of 2015, I went up to Big Sur again with two friends from California. We checked in at a hotel at south end of Big Sur before we head out to photograph sunset. Big Sur was cloudy as usual in the evening. We stayed a couple of hours after sunset to see if the sky will clear up like it did for me a year ago. This time, I was not so lucky. We started to drive back to hotel in disappointment.Our fortune got even worse a couple of miles away from the hotel. A construction crew blocked the Highway 1 to repair the road damaged by a landslide. No one was allowed to pass between 10:00PM and 7:00AM. The crew told us to take a detour. Not just any detour – a three hour detour. We had to drive north and then head east across the mountains to reach another highway to go south. It was already midnight. What choice do we have? We started our journey onto the mountain road.When we reached the top of mountain, we saw stars! The Milky Way was so clear that I can almost reach out to touch it. To make things even more interesting, dense low fog rolled in from the ocean, filled up the valley in front of us.
Rivers of Sky
Life is full of detours, we just need to learn to appreciate every moment.
When I arrived at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, a thunder storm was approaching fast. I decided not to climb up the great sand dune, but shot from foot of the dune instead to avoid the lighting and heavy rain. Just when I was trying to find my composition, two brave young men went right pass me and climbed all the way to the top.
The rain was pouring and lighting was none stop. As I put away my equipment, I couldn’t stop turning my head to watch these two brave souls. What was the view on the other side of dune? It was only reserved for the challengers.