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HDR Santa Monica Bay

January 11, 2009 The Los Lionnes Canyon hiking trail is on my list of favorite hikes; it starts with 1.5 miles of single track through typical Southern California coastal woodland. Following the contours of the canyon it winds along, gradually gaining altitude, remaining interesting by randomly opening up to vistas of coast, luxurious mansions, and the city beyond. Even though the trail winds, there are no forks and therefore no decisions on which way to go along this part of the route. I've hiked this trail many times. It is for these reasons that I selected this hike, knowing that I'd have to hike back well after dark*.

Snapping a photograph of the first full moon of the year - named by the Farmer's Almanac as the Wolf moon - seemed like a good reason to get out of the house. I remembered a hike on Los Lionnes Canyon last year where the moonrise looked surreal as the backdrop for the city. On that day I didn’t have my camera, so I was excited about the prospect of catching that missed picture. I even did the prerequisite researched for the time and compass coordinate of the moon when it rises above the horizon.

With a vision of the picture in my head, I setup on a rock outcropping at the vista point at the end of the 1.5 miles of single track. Unfortunately my vision didn't exactly coincide with the actual location of the moonrise. Even though I carry a compass for the reason of composing a picture before the moonrise, I sabotaged myself by having a picture in my head. My compass remained in my bag. I composed the picture as I had remembered it. The moon rose behind the mountains, north of the city and out of my cameras view. I did manage to keep my composure and reset to do a time lapse sequence**; although ideally I should have started the sequence before the moon rose above the mountains. Trying to make the best of things, I enjoyed the view and then took the above picture of the Santa Monica Bay*** as darkness fell.

Like many things, balance comes to mind - in this case balance between envisioning and preplanning photographs versus waiting to see what nature actually throws at you. Both skills are good in the photographer’s bag. Balance is a good thing. For me it’s an on-going process. A never ending process.

Before starting the return hike, I pulled my compass out to verify that yes indeed the moon rose where it was supposed to. Even though my ego was bruised; it's a good thing the moon didn't shift unexpectedly, that would really screw the surf up. Mindful of my balance I also took a bearing on the city for future reference.


Note to self: From the rock outcropping along the side trail where the fire road intersects the single track the moon will need to rise with an azimuth of 80° for it to be the backdrop of the skyscrapers in the city, Santa Monica pier is at approximately 120° - possibility for a sunrise shot. And quit with the footnoting.

*Note: Use common sense people when hiking, dark or otherwise.

**Video: This is a short clip (less than 1MB) of time lapse photography of the moon rising mentioned above. The full moonrising over the Santa Monica Mountains (sorry for slow frame rate, I'll fix that soon and move it to YouTube so it can stream): Temporary Movie File

***Note: The night shot of the bay is a digital photographic technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range). There are many “how to” links on the internet for those of you interested. I’ll eventually pull together one myself, but I'll save that for another day. For now, I would like to note that I wanted the photograph to look like night – some HDR images push the exposures to look like daylight. I took one exposure with evaluative metering in aperture priority at F.16, and then I took 4 additional images compensating for highlights (underexposing – I didn’t take any overexposed bracket shots). The HDR image was generated in Photomatix and finally color adjusted, dodged and burned in Photoshop. Also a strange distracting line in the sky – possibly an airplane contrail - was cloned out while in Photoshop.


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