Chasing Fog in the San Francisco Bay Area

Enough folks have asked me how I chase fog shots that I’ve added useful tools / links I use to chase fog.

1) Is the government saying there will be morning fog? Check here first!

2) SFO Aviation data: If it’s good enough for our planes, then it’s good enough for you. Look for “Ceiling” in the forecast. If it’s 800 feet or below, then there’s a good chance of low fog. There might not be fog, but if there is it will be low. I got a shot with a 900 feet ceiling but that more had to do with extreme luck. A ceiling of 1500 feet is great for Mount Tamalpais.

Golden Gate Bridge at Night with Fog

Golden Gate Bridge at Night with Fog

3) The “weatherforyou.com” site is almost useful. I just wish I could zoom into the maps. It shows you fog cover for different blocks of time.

4) Also, it helps to consult a webcam.

5) There’s also the Escaype App but you gotta pay for it.

I hope this helps. Chasing fog is like hitting in baseball. If you get it 3 out of 10 times, then you’re a success. There’s nothing like seeing the fog roll in low into the San Francisco Bay during dusk or dawn.

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Using the Fuji X-Pro2 at Zion and the Red Cliffs of Southern Utah

Most travel photographers try to stick to a light, all-in-one solution like a zoom lens. The problem with most zoom lenses is that you give up image quality and the speed of the lens for the sake of portability. This is why when I was invited by and partnered with Inside Out Media, AToZion, and Travelmindset to explore southern Utah, I used it as an opportunity to travel with a light kit of a Fuji X-pro2, and two prime lenses: a 14mm f2.8 and 35mm f2 lens (21mm and 50mm full frame equiv).

The Red Cliffs

The Red Cliffs, Fujifilm X-Pro2, 35mm, 1/125, f/16, ISO 100

The first spot I checked out was with a group at an Instameet at the Red Cliffs. We hiked from the Sand Cove Trailhead to Primitive Camp, and then onward to the Babylon Arch. There’s more info about this hidden gem on the “Visit St. George” website. Finding the arch was a bit difficult, so I’ve supplied the exact GPS coordinates as well as a link to Google maps here:

N 37 12.145′, W 113 20.095′

The Babylon Arch, Fujifilm X-Pro2, 35mm, 1/125, f/16, ISO 100

The great thing about the Red Cliffs is a spot called Primitive Camp. You can basically hike or 4 wheel drive your way here and camp without a permit. The only amenities are a fire pit, but what else do you need when surrounded by so much beauty.

Campfire at Primitive Camp, Fujifilm X-Pro2, 35mm, 1/60, f/2, ISO 12800

After exploring, you can build a campfire and enjoy s’mores!

While exploring the Red Cliffs, I found that the X-Pro2 handled really great. The first thing that struck me was how light it was. Also, thanks to weather sealing on the camera and 35mm f2 WR lens, I didn’t worry about getting dust or sand into my gear at all. The ISO range was more than enough for capturing scenes during the day and night.

During my stay in the St. George area, I camped most of the time in Zion at South Camp, and stayed at St. George Inn & Suites at the start and end of my trip. I wanted to test out my new 14mm f2.8 lens for astrophotography. In hindsight, the 16mm f1.4 would have been the better choice. It lets in more light, but I also wanted something wide enough to give the user more of a feeling of being there.

Getting a campsite without reservations is quite the ordeal in Zion. I showed up at South Camp at around 5:30am thinking I would be first in line. I was totally wrong. There were already 30 people ahead of me. Camp registration opens at 7am. After waiting 3 hours, I luckily got a spot!

After setting up camp, I explored the valley a bit.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 14mm, f/8, 1/125 with a polarizer

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 14mm, f/8, 1/125 with a polarizer

When it got to be night, I ventured along the Pa’rus trail until I found a spot by the Virgin River.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 14mm, f/2.8, 20s, ISO 3200

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 14mm, f/2.8, 20s, ISO 3200

To learn more about St. George and its environs, check out the Visit St. George website.

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How to Create Sharp Photos for Instagram or Facebook

Taking the Shot

  1. High enough shutter speed? E.G. 1/1000 instead of 1/125 to remove motion blur. If you have to use a slow shutter speed, are you using image stabilization or a tripod? If you are using a tripod are using mirror lock up on a DSLR to prevent mirror slap?
  2. Stopped down enough to be sharp? Most zooms need to be stopped down 3 to 5 stops to achieve maximum sharpness, too wide or too narrow, then the image is too soft. Legendary Canon L, Zeiss or Leica lenses though do not have this problem.
  3. Is it a hazy day? Images are most sharp right after a storm. There’s no dust in the air.
  4. Are you using a polarizer? Sometimes this can sharpen an image.
  5. Are you using too many filters? Stacked filters degrade sharpness.
  6. Is your lens clean?
  7. Does your composition present a contrast between in focus and out of focus elements. An image looks sharper when there are actually some blurred parts, e.g. booked.
  8. Are you using film? If so, the lower the ISO, the less grain and the sharper the image is. ISO 100 is great for sharp portraits.

Before

Before sharpening in post

After

After sharpening
Try these settings for clarity, vibrance and saturation.

Post-Processing the Shot

  • Clarity: 37
  • Vibrance: 14
  • Saturation: 7

Be sure to use sharpening. In the blog post below, you’ll see why:

Lightroom Workflow

YMMV, and these settings are what I use for golden hour. Milky way, or other scenes will have different settings.

If you are posting to Facebook, you need to use Photoshop, and use the sharpen filter twice.

If you are posting to Instagram, you need to be aware that Instagram might actually degrade images.

Here’s the final product of a 600 second long exposure using a 16mm Rokinon lens at f/2.0, ISO 1600, on my old, but trusty Canon T3i.

Mono Lake, 2017

Mono Lake, 2017

Got any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments or DM me on Instagram.

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Automation and Gaming of Instagram

NOTE: If you are reading this in May 2017, this was written in January 2017. I now have a decent crew of folks to shoot with, and am not using any marketing on my account anymore.

Instagram punishes users for experimentation unless it’s through its stories. Basically when you create an account the more photos you add, the more locked into an audience and style you get. If you deviate from that style, like I did for two weeks in 2015, you can lose 25% of your followers. The right response to this is to-heck with those followers. A more thought out response is why doesn’t Instagram just send users that would like the change your way?

After experimenting with street photography for two weeks, I went back to the old style of landscapes that I used to post. It’s interesting to note that at this time, Instagram was really freaked out about Snapchat, who rebuffed a $3 billion dollar offer from Facebook. People were posting less and less on Instagram. “It became a place where people kept raising the bar on themselves in terms of the quality of what they had to achieve to post,” says Kevin Weil, Instagram’s head of product, “We didn’t want that.”

I changed my style because after a nasty fall doing photography in the rain, street photography reflected the broken-ness that I was feeling. I wasn’t only broken physically but broken in other realms of my life. I had and still have a long standing feud with a photo stealer currently running a huge community hub. This person abuses the position and the prestige as a community manager for personal gain – the Donald Trump of the photo world that threatens people that call out photo theft with police action.

Demoralized, I had nowhere to turn. Nobody wanted to shoot with me back in 2015, and it’s 2017 and I still have a ridiculously hard time finding people to shoot with. Maybe I should just isolate myself and focus on my art. Maybe life’s different at 20,000 followers I thought. Maybe it’s worth doing anything I could to get there, and my life would be different?

In August of 2016, I set about learning everything I could about marketing my Instagram account. I found an Instagram knowledge-base of sorts in Liz Dean’s InstaRevealed marketing Facebook group. Instarevealed is just one of many businesses promising account growth, and to be honest, she delivers. You basically are funneled into following their IG account, and join a Facebook group where folks share their success stories on reaching 1k, 5k, 10k followers and up. You can join a “comment pod” which has a bunch of guidelines. Comment pods are for folks like me that got betrayed by their crew, got dropped by other IGers, or never had anybody to shoot with in the first place. They grow your likes by making sure 14 people comment on your post within 15 minutes so that it grows. They are also for the shadiest people I’ve ever met on a social networking app.

Here are the motley types you will find:

1) The diva of awful photographs, who so believes they’re entitled or owed 100,000 followers, and all they shoot are pixelated, blurry photographs of the worst sort. This person will bitch in the group about not getting enough likes or that the algorithm is somehow biased against them. I’ve cursed this person out with, “Why don’t you level up your photography?”

2) The person that you thought grew their following authentically but never did. After reading this article you’ll be able to tell which of your Instagram heroes aren’t heroes at all. You’ll see them saying shots are killer for the 14 or so folks per pod that they are in that have the crappiest photos, or the photos might be decent but their comments’ enthusiasm in no way matches the photo. A photo of Grandma’s Grave will get “Killer shot dude! Lit!”

3) The photo stealer is someone in your pod who just posts photos by other people. The way they explain it is that by using purely viral photos from other people they can grow their account the quickest. This is absolutely true, and it seems Instagram HQ doesn’t care about fixing this except for a broken DMCA process.

4) Real friends. Yeah, this sort of surprised me but I met a bunch of folks that I’d actually want to hang out with.

5) Oh, and there’s me. A person who used to run a San Francisco community account, gave it to a bunch of folks to run, and got back-stabbed by them. This person was bent on some sort of way for getting justice from this but realized their ruined and sad lives were justice enough. Occasionally reporting stolen photos to Instagram and having Instagram take them down is enough.

So comment pods will get you likes, but to grow followers at a rate of 5000 or so a month, you need to do something different. I signed an NDA and so can’t go into what this is. Let’s just say I did this for 6 months, and at 20,000 followers still find myself shooting alone. There’s an automated way of doing this where you can just set it and forget it. There’s the manual way of doing this, where folks will spend 8 or more hours a day blowing up their accounts. It was truly sad seeing people game Instagram for 8 hours a day or more when they could actually just learn a bit of photography, photo editing and web development.

I decided to stop growing my account because I felt, “Hey, this is where I’d probably end up if I did become a suggested user.” I also stopped because lots of folks started spreading the false rumor that I was buying followers. Marketing for follows, and buying them aren’t the same in my book.

What I want to do now has nothing to do with marketing. Instead, I’d rather just go back to using my account the way I used to – posting whatever I want and connecting with whomever I want. Also, I want to focus on creating a photography book. After that, I eventually want to create an app, because owning your own social networking / photography app:
“It’s like a final club. Except we’re president.”

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Crowd Sourced Travel with Letskedaddle

On Black Friday, instead of shopping, I decided to #OptOutside along with REI and Letskedaddle. I didn’t buy anything that day and instead decided to enjoy the great outdoors with like-minded folks at Point Reyes National Seashore.

What is Letskedaddle? It is crowd sourced travel. Assume you want to get to Yosemite on a certain date. You announce your intention on Letskedaddle and if enough people want to go on that date (at least 10), your trip and everybody else’s gets funded. It’s a cheap and more convenient alternative. It can take 10 to 12 hours to get to Yosemite if you take public transportation from San Francisco.

boarding the bus to adventure

Crowd Sourced Travel

On Black Friday, the crew I was with ended up going to Point Reyes. We boarded at REI in San Francisco and in 90 minutes were at a trailhead leading to creeks, forests and coastal views. The forest was so lush and green! It was quite the treat to get away from the city.

Lush greenery awaits!

Lush Greenery

Are you looking for a great way to get to hard to reach places with friends? Check out Letskedaddle.

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Day Tripping to Yosemite

One of the most rewarding day trips from the San Francisco Bay Area is a 4 hour drive to Yosemite National Park. This year I’ve only done one day trip to Yosemite. It was on my way back from Death Valley National Park.

Here’s what you need to pack if you are going between now and until Spring of 2017. Besides the basics you will need:

1) A paper map and compass because there is limited cell service in Yosemite unless you have Verizon. Better yet, get a GPS.

2) Tire chains or 4 wheel drive in case of snow.

3) A sleeping bag in case you get stuck in the road in the cold.

4) $25 for the park pass to allow your automobile and passengers if any into the park.

5) For fun, bring stuff you might bring for a picnic!

Here is an itinerary for a day trip to Yosemite.

2:00 am – Leave San Francisco
6:00 – 6:30 am – Arrive at Tunnel View in Yosemite to catch sunrise.
8:00 – 10:00 am – Grab breakfast at Yosemite Lodge or eat somewhere picturesque in the Valley. At this time of year there should be parking along side of the road.
10am until sunset – Explore the valley, and photograph!
After sunset – head back to San Francisco

A spot you can drive right up to!

A spot you can drive right up to!

For photographers, finding the right light will be challenging until golden hour, so there are a few hours to kill, or a few hours to get to the right spot. If you’re looking for a work out, Vernal Falls is a great hike. I would personally stay in the valley and photograph along the Merced River, and Sentinel Bridge capturing the iconic Half Dome. This is such a treat when there’s snow on the ground, too. Another valley option is a quick, short hike to the base of lower Yosemite Falls. The options are endless for a day trip.

A 3.5 mile round trip hike from the Happy Isles!

A 3.5 mile round trip hike from the Happy Isles!

However, for the more adventurous, Vernal Falls can be done in a day during the winter. Details on a hike to Vernal Falls when it is snowing can be found on the Yosemite National Park website.

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A Review of the Mamot Plasma 30 Sleeping Bag

I felt a bit apprehensive before purchasing the Plasma 30 bag. It’s purpose seemed really narrow: Hikes where the temperature might be in the upper 60s and where the nights could plunge to around freezing, an alpine bag for early spring and late fall.

When I hiked to Discovery Point in Crater Lake National Park, I was glad I had this ultralight and warm, down bag. The temperature was around 32 degrees, and I needed no more than my long-underwear and baselayer to keep warm. I took advantage of such well thought out and luxurious features as the draft collar, and hood. At 32 degrees I was very warm.

At 1.44 pounds this is also the lightest 3 season bag I’ve ever used. In off-season Alpine hikes, I’m very confident this is the bag to use.
For winter, I would use the Lamina Z Torch sleeping bag which weighs 3.94 pounds. It’s rated to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and kept me very warm during New Year’s Eve in Yosemite when it was around 9 degrees.

Should you buy a Marmot Plasma 30 Bag? I think it’s the sort of bag for ultralight-backpacking from Spring to Fall.

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Backcountry Camping at Crater Lake National Park

Backcountry camping affords the flexibility, freedom and solitude that is often lacking with car camping or just camping at a designated campsite. This weekend, I got to enjoy backcountry camping with a friend at Crater Lake National Park.

First, you get your backcountry permit from the Visitor Center. Some guides tell you you can do this at the Rim Village. This is no longer true. After that you can camp anywhere that is a mile away from the nearest paved road, and out of sight of any trails. A popular route is hiking, or in our case, snow shoeing to Discovery Point.

Crater Lake at Sunset from Discovery Point
Crater Lake from Discovery Point, April 2016

The snowpack is its deepest (approx. 117 inches average) in March, and can last into July. Personally, I feel March and April are the best times to go because the southern approach is open unless there’s a snowstorm.

Setting up camp is encouraged close by trees where you can be protected from the wind, snow and/or rain. You cannot camp at the rim of the crater. Also, make sure you are prepared for the cold nights that can go to below freezing. After you’ve set up camp, you can enjoy the stars.

Milky Way from Crater Lake

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How to Get Lots Done in Life and Photography: Vincent Trinh

I interviewed Vincent Trinh, the director of photography for Hyphen magazine. He also works with the Asian American Donor Program which helps find donors for patients in need.

Season 1, Episode 3, Vincent Trinh gets lots done.

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Converting a 55 degree sleeping bag to a 35 degree bag

When I went to Yosemite this winter, I got to use a variety of gear. The experiment that made me the happiest was when I converted a 55 degree sleeping bag to a 35 degree bag. I did this by using 3 items.

The Alpine Bivy from Outdoor Research is a Goretex bivy that keeps you dry even if you were sleeping in a stream. I never got to test that part out, but because you are sealed in versus a regular tent, it added a layer of warmth.

Alpine Bivy

The Sea to Summit Extreme Thermolite Liner claims to add 25 degrees to your sleeping bag. I have tested in 35 degree weather in Yosemite and was comfortable, but when I was in Joshua Tree with 40 degree weather without the Sol Escape Bivvy, I struggled to stay warm through out the night. I think it only adds 10 degrees thus turning my 55 degree bag to a 45 degree bag.

The Sol Escape Bivvy by itself seems to be the equivalent of a 45 degree bag. When used in combination with the Alpine Bivy, and Thermolite Liner, you now have equipment that will keep you very comfortable at 35 degrees. I definitely want to test it to lower temperatures. Have you tried a liner with a bivy to keep warmer?

Here is the rest of the combo below.

The Combo

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