I live in Costa Mesa and love riding on the Santa Ana River Trail (SART), a multiuse paved trail open to walkers, runners, bicyclists, skaters, and more (pretty much anything non-motorized). If you’ve never ridden it before, you’ve got to: the Santa Ana River Trail runs more than 30 miles inland from the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Huntington Beach, where it connects up seamlessly with the beach’s bicycle path. And for that length it’s 100% car and crossing free – you have dozens of miles of paved trail to roll on continuously without stopping. Insanely useful for getting places in central Orange County while avoiding cars.
But getting on the trail isn’t always intuitive, especially as the trail crosses from one side of the river to the other within Costa Mesa’s borders. Starting near the ocean and heading inland, here are all the entrances from Costa Mesa:
Lately I’ve started bicycling longer distances1, and as I’m riding, I’m seeing more of my local area. So many of the bicycle paths lead to stunning views, not to mention the gorgeous little parks.
But now that it’s winter I’m out riding a lot at night. Night changes so much about the landscape, especially in urban areas where a single bright point-source of light (the sun or moon) is replaced by multiple small light sources, many of which are different colors and intensities. Combine the change in illumination with a requirement for long exposure times and you have a recipe for a dramatic visual change.
I wanted to try to capture some of that changed beauty, so I recently biked to a couple of my favorite vantage points in Newport Beach to try my hand at it.
But those are just general overviews; the image I’m happiest with takes just a piece of one of those and lets your eye linger on the details:
All of these are single-frame exposures with minimal manipulation in post processing. A few more images can be found in my Newport Beach at Night album.
1 I’m trying to get in at least 80 miles a week, and am hoping to build up to riding a century in a few months. 2 The two tall buildings on the left are the Vista Del Lido complex and the 601 Lido Condominiums; the two tall buildings on the right (that almost appear as one) are Newport: The Towers (3121 PCH) and Newport Surgery Center (3333 PCH).
While out in the garden this weekend I spotted a gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae incarnata. They’re stunning butterflies:
What first caught my eye was the silver reflections of the spots on the bottom of their wings. In direct sunlight it looks like they’re metallic; very eye-catching. But when the same butterfly is in diffuse light, those spots look white:
Compare the first and second picture, and you’ll see that in addition to changing from metallic to white, the butterfly can also choose how much color to show on its underside. When it spreads its wings (as in the first picture), the bright red/orange coloration of its forewing is revealed; but when it rests with both wings pulled together and upright (as in the second picture) it can completely hide the red/orange color, thus showing only brown and white/silver. It can also partially separate the wings, to reveal just a bit of color (as it liked to do when it was annoyed with how close I was getting).
And speaking of color, check out the top of those wings:
This butterfly only held open its wings for a few seconds after each flight attempt, so spotting the true colors of the wings takes finding one in flight and then watching it land.
For a fourth, and final, view of the gulf fritillary, how about a head-on look?
Sleek and slim, complete with a coyly resting forelimb.
And in case you didn’t realize, all four of these images are of the exact same individual. It’s surprising how different it looks depending on angle and lighting.
The larvae reportedly only eat passion flower vines; I wonder which of my neighbors has one.
I’ve been trying to do more of my errands by bicycling, and one of my biggest holdups has been a lack of cargo room: it’s hard to lug home 80 pounds of cat litter in a backpack. So, a few months ago I started shopping on Craigslist for a bike trailer, only to find out that a good friend had one in her garage that I could have for free.
That’s a Schwinn (Pacific Cycle) Spirit Bicycle Trailer, rated to hold up to two 50-lb kids (aka: 100 pounds of cargo!). I immediately fell in love with it, and even used it to lug home 80 pounds of cat litter from the pet store:
An unexpected bonus of the trailer is that whenever I have it attached to my bike, cars give me more maneuvering room. I bike on city streets in Orange County, CA, and am used to having only a few inches of space between my side mirror and the cars zipping past me. But when I’m using the trailer, most cars will actually change lanes before even attempting to pass me (or at least give me four or five feet of clearance), and I’ve had multiple people literally stop to let me go in front of them. Amazing.
But using the trailer for cargo has proved to be less than ideal, as the bottom of the trailer is just made of soft fabric: the kids’ weight is designed to be supported entirely by the harness (which is hung from a horizontal metal rod). So, unless I had cargo that was perfectly sized to fit into that harness (like the bags of cat litter), I was limited to low weight.
So, I wanted to modify the trailer to add a solid base to convert it to a cargo trailer, and while I found lotsofDIY tutorials, they all involved removing the fabric. However, I wanted to keep the fabric on my trailer to protect my cargo from weather and prevent it from blowing around. Additionally, my guess is that the extra space I’m getting when I use the trailer is due to both the visual bulk of the trailer (it’s actually the same width as my handlebars, but makes my bike look much wider) and also because people think there are cute wittle children in the trailer and thus are panicked about the possibility of hitting them1.
So, what I ended up doing is removing the harness and adding a wooden shelf that fit inside the existing fabric, so my trailer now looks like this:
Read on for full instructions on how I built this!
Michelle and I tend our backyard garden every summer, and one of our joys is seeing the first produce of the year slowly ripen on the plants. Just this week our first cherry tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are finally ripening, and so yesterday I took a few pictures of the glorious first fruits:
The tomatoes were in some nice diffusely-lit shade, and that’s what you see above – I used a tripod to stabilize the camera, but otherwise didn’t need anything else.
But since I’ve been having fun experimenting with off camera lighting recently, I decided to pull out my lighting gear and try some “studio” style lighting on the fruits.
What a difference lighting makes! The black background makes the fruits pop out visually, thanks to less visual clutter, but I think it also makes the scene look more artificial (or as though it was taken at night). My favorite comment so far comes from my dad, who said that the fruit look like two “hot Jupiters”. Little tomato planets floating in space; I like it.
1 Two snooted flashes were setup, one on either side of the fruit, and I used my gray card to shade the background from the primary flash’s illumination. Both flashes also had great natural gobos: the branches of the plant itself.
As I’ve postedbefore, Michelle loves to make chainmail. So, it wasn’t a surprise when she recently asked me to take a picture of her latest project1:
For the purposes of this post, note the background: it’s seamlessly black, with nothing at all visible. And that background was created with no work at all in Photoshop (other than removing a string I used to support the project) – it was created solely by careful placement of off-camera lights. As the method is pretty neat, I thought I’d show you how I did it.
The first technique most people think of for getting a black background is to, well, put something black behind the object. While this works, it requires careful lighting and spacing to ensure that the black object doesn’t become visible (as more than just solid black) in the image. I did just this outdoors with my amaryllis flower bud images, but I had to find flower buds with enough shaded space behind them to hang a black T-shirt on a spare chair well behind the depth of field of the image, and then whenever stray light hit the T-shirt you could see the folds in the fabric. Annoying.
For the maille bracelet I created a black background by putting absolutely nothing behind the maille. And I mean literally nothing: here’s what the maille looked like as I was setting it up:
Michelle’s been busy lately working on maille projects (and I’ve been slow on posting pictures of them – the last one I posted was her dragonscale bracelet), so here’s a post with some of her latest work.
This zebra striped bracelet is made out of black and white anodized aluminum rings (18 gauge 1/4″ diameter) held together by bright aluminum rings (20 gauge 1/8″ diameter) in a Japanese 12-in-2 pattern.
These colorful earrings are made from anodized niobium and bright aluminum rings (20 gauge 1/8" diameter) woven in a Byzantine pattern.
These are made from blue anodized aluminum rings (18 gauge 1/4") and bright aluminum rings (19 gauge 5/32") woven in a dragonscale pattern.
Another pair of earrings made in a Byzantine weave, this time using all bright aluminum rings (20 gauge 1/8").
This bracelet is made out of copper rings (20-gauge, 3/16″ diameter) woven together in a European 8-in-1 pattern; I’ve got a separate “behind the scenes” post detailing how I created the all-black background for this picture.
Yesterday afternoon while planting some tomatoes in the back yard I heard a distinctly non-modern sounding aircraft. I looked up to see this beauty flying by:
It’s a restored B-17 bomber nicknamed “Nine-O-Nine”, and it even has its own Wikipedia page. Long story short, it’s been around the block a few times: it served in WWII, participated in atomic bomb testing in the 1950s, was sold as scrap in the 1960s, converted into a fire suppression tanker in the 1970s, and then finally sold to the Collings Foundation, who restored it to WWII-era condition in the 1980s.
The pilot(s) were even kind enough to fly nearly directly over our house about an hour or so before sunset, giving me a great view of the bottom of the plane:
And, after a few loops over our house, it flew away:
And, fortunately enough for this photographer, it flew AWAY from the sunset, so it was nicely lit for my final shots 🙂
Michelle and I were lucky enough to be passing by the light station in time for one of their rare moonrise tours (okay, I’ll admit, we planned our trip up the coast around the tour …). These tours happen once or twice a month at (you guessed it) the full moon. The tours start shortly before sunset, and end with the moon rising over the lighthouse.
The tour starts with everyone waiting at the entrance sign to the State Historic Park & Lighthouse. I was advised to arrive early to ensure a spot in the tour, and while arriving early turned out to not be necessary, it did help me realize just how windy it was going to be. The wind was constant, strong, and cold. I bundled up for the night, and was glad I did. Once the docents arrived everyone was let through the gate and drove to the base of the rock the lighthouse stands on (where one of only two bathrooms on the tour are found).
We soon started walking up the road that leads to the lighthouse. The road is not for the acrophobic: it’s a steep paved road about one car wide that’s chiseled into the edge of the steep rock face with no fence or barrier between the edge and a long drop to the ocean. The road by itself would be fine, but the constant seemingly gale-force winds made people stay far from the edge (and parents hold onto their children rather tightly). Here’s what it looks like:
The road was a bit of a climb, but persevering paid off with our first view of the lighthouse peeking over the hillside.
Any acrophobia I might have had disappeared entirely with this view 🙂
Even without the lighthouse peeking into view, the walk to the top was filled with entertainment: blooming plants lined the hillside, and the ocean was a beautiful seafoam green.
The lighthouse itself was built in 1889, and is still a functioning navigational aid. The building and its interior are built in the classic lighthouse style of elegant functional simplicity.
Some of the most intriguing structures were pieces of cut glass embedded in the floor of the lantern room’s upper level. These were designed to capture the light from the primary source and diffuse it down to the lower levels of the lighthouse building, allowing the lighthouse’s main tower to be lit solely by the primary light. They’re miniature sunroofs if you will.
In addition to being able to walk around in the lantern room and look at everything up close, we even got to climb out onto the walkway surrounding the lantern room and enjoy the view:
The view was great (the sun was setting behind the coastal clouds), but even more amazing was how WINDY it was. The door to the walkway was on the leeward side of the building, and so there was virtually no wind there. But walk even a few feet from the door and you suddenly get slammed with a wall of wind. Walking through this wall took tremendous effort (as you can see if you look closely at this picture).
After the tour of the inside of the lantern room we got to climb above the lighthouse, and from there I think I was able to capture a bit of the feel of the night: the slowly rotating dual beams of the lighthouse sweeping over the broad expanse of the ocean while coastal clouds roll in at dusk.
A few minutes later we headed to the southern end of the station and watched the moon rise, with the Pacific Ocean, Highway 1, and the California coast as background.
I could have stayed in that spot a long, long time (assuming I had a heater with me).
If you’re ever in the area, check and see if there’s a tour. As the moon rises the docents break out hot chocolate (available for a suggested donation of $1!2), and life is good.
1 Point Sur is a light station, not just a lighthouse, because it was built to be an independent facility. When it was built there was no easy road that connected it to Monterey, so it was in an extremely remote location. It housed multiple families at a time, and had all the facilities needed for independence: a blacksmith shop, woodworking shop, barn, water tower, and multiple houses. 2 Sadly, I missed the hot chocolate. The entire tour was difficult to photograph, as the tour was not aimed at photographers. The only time I could break out a tripod was as the moon rose, and since we only had about 10 or 15 minutes it was either hot cocoa or pictures, and you know which I’ll choose every time.
Point Sur State Historic Park & Lighthouse: Located along California Highway 1 about 25 miles south of Monterey, the entrance to the park is at a small gate along the west side of the highway. The GPS coordinates for the entrance to the park are N 36 18.578 W 121 53.165; it’s just north of the Point Sur Naval Station and near the California Sea Otter Game Refuge. See the park’s website for more information on location and schedules of tours.
The station is a state park run entirely by volunteers; it’s only open during guided tours, and there is no access at other times. You do need to plan ahead: if you stop by at a random time, you’ll get a picture much like the first one of this post and then drive on your way, never knowing what you missed. Parking is free (stop by the gate at first, and then drive into a small lot at the base of the rock once a docent opens the gate), and bathrooms are limited (there’s one at the interior parking lot, and one in the last building the tour goes through). There are no public facilities on the highway near the lighthouse.
The moonrise tour occurs only during full moons. As you gathered from the post, it can be EXTREMELY windy: I highly recommend a hat, gloves, windproof jacket, and warm layers underneath. I wore all that, and was cold; many people on the trip reported being very, very cold. Docents report that it’s less windy in the fall. The park runs other tours that meet during the day; these apparently go through more of the buildings.