Two Days In Southern California And A Tribute To A Friend

“Grandpa, Grandpa, make a sound like a frog,” his grandchildren pleaded.

“No,” he replied.

“But you have to, Grandpa, please… make a sound like a frog!” They continued to beg.

“Why, children? That’s crazy,” he answered.

“Because Mom said that as soon as you croak, we can go to California.”

My dear friend and Aunt’s boyfriend, Al Moots, told me this joke a few months ago while he was in the hospital. As much as he had been through, I was a little surprised about the dark humor, but he always cracked jokes, and it was his way of coping. It did have relevance to me, however, because it was about my favorite state. I used to travel with my parents to California every summer when I was a kid, and I always thought it was the greatest place in the world.  My Aunt Judy lived in San Diego, and we would go there to visit her and sometimes and travel to other amazing places in the Golden State.

Evening View of Los Angeles

Evening View of Los Angeles

I grew up in Arkansas, and no offense to my home state, but California was just on an entirely different level. There was so much to do and so much to see, and the location was very exciting for a kid from a small town where there really wasn’t much to do. California had the ocean, the mountains, the desert, and lively cities. My cousins, Jill and Chris, took me to see AC/DC when I was twelve at the San Diego Sports Arena, and it totally blew my still developing mind. It was exciting, loud, and fun.  When I’d return to Arkansas late every summer, I’d tell my friends all about it and feel a little bit sorry for them that they had no idea what I was talking about.

Sunset near Santa Monica Pier

When I was around 14 years old, my Aunt moved to Arkansas, and our summer trips to San Diego ended. I still haven’t returned to the city, and while I have lived in  Reno, Nevada for almost six years, I hadn’t been to the coastal regions of Southern California since our last family trip out there when I was twelve. Yes, I’ve done quite a bit around Northern California and locations around the Mojave Desert like Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Park, but until this past December, I haven’t had any images from around Southern California.

Early Morning Surfer at Venice Beach

I finally made the journey down there after my fall semester ended and spent a couple days exploring around the Los Angeles area. I camped one night in the Malibu Hills and photographed the Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach, and I hiked from near the Griffith Park Observatory to behind the Hollywood sign with my good friend, Brian Schmalz, and his dog, Callie ( The days were clear and pollution free, and I really enjoyed my time down there. I’m looking forward to returning soon, and I won’t wait so long for the next time.

Golden Light on Hollywood Sign

That joke that Al told me from his hospital bed was the last one that I heard him tell. Yes, it was kind of dark if you think about it, but he always had jokes, hundreds of them. The man was a natural comedian with an amazing personality. He liked to help people. He liked to cheer people up. He was a truck driver, a bus driver for schoolchildren, a very religious man, and a patriot. He’d driven on pretty much every interstate in the United States and had seen more than most. I wish that I had written down and remembered more of those jokes, but at least I’ll always remember the last one about California. Rest in peace, Al, my dear friend. If there is one thing that I learned from you, it is to try to always keep my sense of humor and a positive attitude, especially when times are rough. The man had been through a lot of grief during the last months of his life, but he never lost his sense of humor. I think it was something that just kept him going.

Al Moots — April 30, 1942 – February 7, 2014

After Midnight Moonlight at McWay Falls, Big Sur, California


Twenty Minutes of Moonlight at Big Sur’s McWay Falls, California

2013 has been a good year of ocean photography for me. I had a nice Point Reyes backpacking trip in February, and I also had an epic multi-day hike along California’s Lost Coast with my friend, Patrick Russell. Initially, I was planning to begin my slow route to Arkansas for the holidays with a night or two in Death Valley, but I started thinking about how nice it would be to finish strong with another photo or two of the Pacific Ocean. I’m also working on my nighttime portfolio, so I decided to try to merge those two interests with this moonlit photo of Big Sur’s McWay Falls. It’s one of the two waterfalls in California which empties into the Pacific. The other one, Alamare Falls, in Point Reyes was the main subject of my backpacking trip.

For this, I had to wait until after midnight for the moon to move more to the west, so the waterfall could get some light on it. This is a twenty minute exposure, and it’s my favorite so far after a quick edit from the back of my truck before I passed out after the three hour long photo shoot. I’ll probably post another one or two after I have time to carefully edit. Thanks for looking!

“I Want to Take You Higher:” Thoughts on HDR


Late Evening from Lake Tahoe’s Junk-Jigglar’s Cove (Summertime Nude Beach)

To a certain degree, I used to be more of a photography purist.  For example, out of the photography friends and coworkers I had back in my newspaper days, I was one of the last to switch from film to digital. I don’t think the newspaper I worked at, or the other local papers, had another staff photographer who would come back from a high school football game on a Friday night and decide to process film instead of plugging in a digital camera. See, my name was going to be on that photo on Saturday morning, and I wanted it to look better than what the competition was turning in with their old and clunky digital cameras. So I ran a lot of film, and it required quite a bit more work than what the others who shot digitally. I shot film at city council meetings, at Presidential visits, car wrecks, plane crashes, and many other types of events. For the first couple years of my photojournalism career, I ran more film than any other photographer in my geographic area.


Train Kept A Rollin’ All Night Long, Truckee, California

I also shot film for all my personal landscape photography needs. Most of the time I used a super slow, Fuji 50 speed film that was very contrasty but had super-saturated colors. The colors looked great for landscapes and natural scenes, but they were too much for people. The reds were over-the-top vibrant, and most guys probably wouldn’t want to use that type of film for portraits of their wife because it might make them look like they should be on one of those cards that get handed out on Las Vegas Boulevard.


Fall Color at Thomas Creek, Nevada

Filters were also something that I used quite a bit, mainly warming filters, polarizers, and graduated neutral density filters. I even remember back then when someone would claim that using one of those filters was cheating, but what people, usually non-photographers, often don’t know is that the camera and the human eye are very different. When a person views a sunrise or sunset or a very contrasty scene, their brain will correct for the differences in light, and they will see it for all its glory in an instant. A camera, however, doesn’t have the latitude and can only reproduce a certain brightness at a time. That’s why we see more silhouettes in photographs than we do with our eye. The brain will correct for the dark areas and allow the viewer to see those details.


Late Evening at Virginia City, Nevada

I used to use graduated neutral density filters to try to correct for this on a single frame of film, and while it worked fairly well, there would often be dark lines across the scene, or the tops of trees above horizon lines would be black instead of the accurate green that was intended. If someone looked at a lot of landscape photography from before the digital era, they would see many examples of what I’m writing about. Around 2004, I finally made the switch to shooting digital all the time. The cameras had caught up with the quality of 35mm film, and as someone who shoots a lot, it was an easy decision. Actually, what really initiated the decision was that I came back from a trip to Death Valley National Park, and a film processor at a photo lab Fayetteville, Arkansas chewed up all my film. It was a heartbreaking experience, and I felt like going digital would help me cut out as many middlemen as possible.


Godbeams over Mount Rose and Slide Mountain, Nevada

Now there are several different ways to make up for a camera’s inefecciencies to the human eye. Some people still claim to be purists who never change a single thing that comes directly out of their camera, and others claim that Photoshop is evil. They can believe whatever they want, in my opinion, but the more that artists worry about what their critics will think, the more their art will suffer. For example, I know of people whom think that all landscape photography where the photographer’s goal is to make the scene look beautiful should be labeled as “ecoporn.” Thankfully, nobody really takes these folks seriously. It just gives them something else to complain about while they eat broccoli and watch French movies.


Late Evening at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California


So yeah, I’ve been playing around with a little bit of HDR processing lately. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it stands for high dynamic range, and it’s a way to digitally combine several different exposures of different tonal brightness to create one image that can show a scene in a more similar fashion to the human eye.  Yes, it is very easily overdone, and some photographers will cook it like a steak that’s been on the grill for three times longer than needed. At first, I didn’t like it, but I’m finding that there is a time and a place for it, and refusing to experiment for the sake of purity or tradition can lead to a lot of missed artistic opportunity, at least in my opinion.



Carry That Weight: Thoughts on Mirrorless Photography

Summer Evening at Santa Cruz Sea Swings, California


So bigger is better in America, right? Many people want their large, flat-screen televisions on the walls of their living rooms and supercharged V8 engines in their cars. They also might want a big steak for dinner at their mansion, and some people even spend thousands of dollars to have their naughty parts enlarged to ridiculous proportions. Professional cameras have also largely followed this trend about size, and the current trend is that large full-frame sensors on digital, single-lens-reflex cameras are what is to be desired by the majority of serious photographers. The big kids on the camera block have been Nikon and Canon, and together, those two companies have set the camera equipment trends for about fifty years. They have a deep history of creating great equipment, and most beginning shutterbugs will begin with either a Nikon or a Canon. This has been going on for nearly one-third of photography’s short history, but is it possible for these kings of the market to be overthrown? I think so. Let me explain.


Sunset View of Mokelumne Wilderness, California

Technology has been the driving force for photography’s historical improvements, and one could say that these improvements could provide an accurate timeline about society’s technological advancements. I mean, during the middle of the 19th Century, photographers had to shoot long exposures on single plates of glass that were coated with wet photographic chemistry. If the shoot was on location, the darkroom had to be carried along in a wagon because the image had to be processed immediately, or the effort would be wasted. Now we can just send the photo to our smartphones with attached GPS coordinates and the ability to post images to social network sites within seconds. Photography sure has come a long way in less than two hundred years, and technology still has more surprises for us to enjoy.


Hot August Nights, Reno, Nevada

While size is important to many, one thing that professional photography equipment has always had going against it is weight. The camera bodies are heavy, and the professional lenses with fast glass that’s made to cover a camera body’s sensor or film plane are very hefty, especially when several are carried at once. As a backpacker, I have sacrificed my health and ability to enjoy long distance hiking because of my strong desire to carry as much of my photography equipment as possible. Yes, the backpack, tent, and sleeping bag are light, but they have to be after the fifteen pounds of camera equipment is added.


All Along the Martis Peak Watchtower, California

A few years ago, I started reading and hearing about mirrorless cameras, and I specifically remember a blog that claimed that it was a bad idea to buy another piece of DSLR equipment. The author made it seem that he would eventually be selling all of his DSLR equipment to fund a new mirrorless system. These mirrorless systems are much smaller because the large mirror that has been required for the viewing systems of all popular single-lens reflex cameras during the past fifty years would no longer be needed. Because of this, the lens would be closer and directly in front of the camera’s sensor, and the camera body could be less than half the size of heavier camera designs. The lenses could also be smaller because they don’t have to cover the size of the large mirror on a more traditional camera.


Family Portrait at The Great Reno Balloon Race

This last summer, I invested into the micro-four thirds system that Olympus and Panasonic created together and bought an Olympus E-P5 kit with an electronic viewfinder and 17mm f 1.8 lens. This is a much smaller setup than the full-frame Canon DSLR that I’ve carried with me during the last five years, but there are things about it that are much more charming. The quality from the camera, when a good lens is attached, is outstanding.  I had become somewhat bored with using zoom lenses from Nikon and Canon, as they have been the primary lenses of my photography during the last fifteen years of my photography career, and they are bulky and honestly not quite as sharp as a prime lens of a nearby focal length.


Dawn Patrol at The Great Reno Balloon Race

I started with the 17mm f1.8 and fell in love with the combo. The image stabilization that the camera provides is really more of a game changer than any camera that I’ve ever used. I’m able to handhold at shutter speeds that were too slow for me to achieve good results with on older cameras. Sometimes, I don’t really need the tripod, but I’m still bringing it most of the time.


Stormy Sunset at Lake Tahoe’s Bonsai Rock, Nevada

One thing that I’ve noticed right away is that the smaller camera will travel with me when I would have probably left the heavy full frame at home. I can carry the body and a couple lenses in a coat pocket, and it doesn’t provide near the aches and pains as the heavy DSLR when I wear it around my neck for a long period of time. It’s also so much lighter that I don’t feel like I need to see a chiropractor after every long distance hike. Most importantly, I am still able to make large prints that are sharp enough to sell to a viewer with a critical eye. I recently made a 20×30 metal print of a Lake Tahoe scene, and I held it next to a 20×30 print from the full-frame camera, and I really couldn’t tell a difference.


Stormy Sunset from Tahoe Rim Trail, Brockway Summit, California

Initially, I was planning to keep both systems, but after a month with the Olympus, my full-frame DSLR just sat on a table and collected dust. It was also about five years old and was going down in value every month. I decided to sell it once I began viewing it in the same vein as the old green rotary phone that used to be on the wall in my grandmother’s kitchen. While it did treat me well for five years, it is now in the hands of a new owner. I used all the money from the sales to fund a new set of prime lenses that are incredibly sharp and a joy to use. My days with mirrored cameras are most likely done. I’m letting advancements in photographic technology completely change the way I approach photography, and I’m honestly falling in love with the craft all over again.


A Senior Portait at Washoe Lake, Nevada


“Keep in Touch with Mama Kin”: The Colorado Plateau with My Mom

My Mom & I at Monument Valley

My affection for the American West began during a family trip to see my aunt in California when I was twelve years old. Heading west from Northwest Arkansas during our first day, I remember the scenery being dull and boring, but I specifically recall not being able to stop looking out the window during our second, third, and fourth days of travel. We went through Northern New Mexico and Northern Arizona and then, at Flagstaff, headed south, towards Phoenix. From there, we cut across Arizona and parts of Southern California’s Mojave Desert on our way to my aunt’s home in San Diego. The desolate and unique scenery was like nothing I had ever witnessed firsthand. The rock formations, yuccas, sagebrush, canyons, and wide open skies appealed to me, and it almost took another twenty years before I realized exactly how much. It took even longer to see it again with my mother.

Sunrise at Towers of the Virgin, Zion National Park, Utah

After high school, I started getting into photography. I wish that I would have began earlier, but I think I’ve made up for it during all my years of effort, and I did make some funny movies with my parents’ video camera. Honestly, I think I was too concerned with having fun and sleeping in to have been any good. However, once I became very serious about the craft, I had the privilege and opportunity to travel several times with my father. He passed away in 2003, but between 1998 and 2002, we went to many stunning places in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. His health didn’t allow him to get out on the trails and physically exert himself very much, but I wasn’t much of a hiker back then and just wanted to visit these places for the first time with my father.

Late Night Moonlit Exposure of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Meanwhile, my mom stayed home and took care of the dogs and watched after things. We never actually traveled together and were planning to go to Southwest Colorado in October of 2005, but a few months before that I decided to return to college to get the bachelor’s degree that I flaked out on when I was younger and much less mature. The next eight years were mostly an academic blur for me as I ended up getting two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, and began a teaching career. I quit the newspaper job that I previously had because being paid to exploit the misfortunes of others really bothered me, and I didn’t get along with the bosses, which I know is a lame excuse. That said, I do have tons of respect for photojournalists and see them as very important eyewitnesses to the world. I’d love to get back into it a little bit at the freelance level, just don’t send me to car crashes, house fires, or city council meetings.

Sunrise a Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim), Arizona

So my mom helped me pick out an apartment in Reno in 2008 before I started graduate school, and she came out with my aunt during the summer of 2012 to help me work at a Lake Tahoe art fair, but I never had a chance, until this year, to take her to any of my favorite places in the American West. We talked about it during her stay at Lake Tahoe, and I put together a nice weeklong route that started in Las Vegas, Nevada and ended in Salt Lake City, Utah. We went through the heart of the Colorado Plateau and visited five national parks and two Native American parks. Other than Las Vegas, she had never been to a single place where we visited.

Afternoon Light Inside Antelope Canyon, Arizona

I certainly enjoyed it and was impressed with her ability to be up before sunrise, and she understood why I couldn’t be in a restaurant during the early morning or late evening’s golden hour. We also stayed at some really nice places where I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford to stay. I had spent a couple nights with my father at the Zion National Park Lodge in 1998, and it was great to stay there again with my mom. I also enjoyed the lodge at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. My favorite, by far though, was Monument Valley’s hotel that is simply and appropriately called, “The View.” I’d put that place up against any hotel on earth. Paris, London, Tokyo, and New York City can’t compete, not even my favorite city in the world, San Francisco. Most awesomely, the back deck of our room had a private patio, which provided me an excellent location for nighttime photography. I actually programmed my camera’s intervalometer to make moonlit exposures all night long as I slept.

Nighttime Exposure from Monument Valley’s “The View,” Hotel

During my solo adventures, I sometimes go a week or so without a shower, and I’ll sleep in a tent or in my truck for several days in a row in order to be able to afford staying out as long as possible, and to quote Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, “It ain’t easy living like a gypsy.” I don’t mind the lifestyle though, honestly, and I think that it is one of the main reasons that my photography has continued to improve, but it sure is nice to have some air conditioning and the comforts of a hotel every night, especially while having the chance to show my dear mother my favorite place on earth, the stunning Colorado Plateau. I don’t see her often, usually just for a week or so during the holidays, and I think we’re going to try to do things like this more often. We’re already talking about Yosemite, Big Sur, and San Francisco for next year.

Courthouse Towers Panoramic, Arches National Park, Utah

“Rain, Rain, Rain: I Don’t Mind” : One Evening Above Area 51 from Tikaboo Peak

One of the first open views from the hike up to the top of Nevada’s Tikaboo Peak.

After the long drive over to the Tikaboo Trailhead, I almost backed out and didn’t make the hike. There were scattered storms and thunder, and after I walked a quarter of a mile up the trail the hail arrived. It was small, but still… I thought about turning around and heading back to the truck. There were a few flashes of lightning off to the distance, and that also made me think long and hard about not achieving that day’s goal: to camp at the top of Tikaboo Peak, the only legal viewpoint of Nevada’s notorious Area 51.

Looking to the southwest from Nevada’s Tikaboo Peak


I also didn’t realize that the hiking instructions that I printed out were really for mountain climbers. It wasn’t a terribly tough peak to ascent, but it was harder than I expected. My directions claimed that it would take an hour to make it to the top, but it took me closer to two. It rained during the entire hike to the top. A few times I thought about being hit by lightning, but I figured that it would be just as likely to be hit going down the mountain as up the mountain. I was probably wrong about that, but the optimism helped keep me motivated to make it to the top.

Desert Detail During Breaking Storm, Area 51, Nevada


When I finally arrived, the rain completely stopped within minutes, and gorgeous stormlight surrounded me from all sides. The panoramic view from the peak stretched for miles, and I was there all alone, except for the weather tower, which I think is really a spy cam for the Feds. I waved at the camera a few times, gave a thumbs up, and took photos until dark. It was cold and windy, and I was exhausted, so I fell asleep pretty fast. My sleeping bag was a little wet, but thankfully it still kept me warm.

I always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me…

One thing that really surprised me was how incredibly beautiful the views were from Tikaboo Peak. I’m sure the dramatic stormlight helped make everything look lovely, but I’ll honestly put that view up against anything I’ve seen in Nevada. I used a 420mm lens and tried to find the Area 51 structures, but I couldn’t really make anything out. I found a runway and a long road across the desert floor. A few cars drove along it, and that was the only military procedure that I noticed.

Area 51 Distant Detail (the scene was at least 15 miles away, probably further)

Once I had settled in, setup the tent, and sorted through the gear for the night, the amazing Nevadan light show began. I immediately forgot about being cold and wet and was super duper happy that I decided to keep heading up the mountain and didn’t turn back. My photographic hero, Ansel Adams, once said that bad weather makes great photographs, and I don’t think there are many things more beautiful than a breaking storm in the desert. It’s not just a visual experience either. The smell is better than anything, and the moist, clean air feels so good to breathe and feel. I’d like to try to describe it in words, but I will have to play the trope of ineffability card and just say that it’s too awesome to be described in words. Photographs work much better.

Rainbow to the east of Nevada’s Tikaboo Peak

There was also a beautiful rainbow to the east of Tikaboo Peak, and this coincided with the golden hour of light. Being up there was like a religious experience. The light, the colors, the smells, and the feel of it all confirmed to me that even though being a photographer isn’t always profitable, us shutterbugs do live a very rich life and experience things that a lot of other people will never see. This was one of my best evenings of photography since I moved to Nevada in 2008. I haven’t seen many photos taken from this spot because it’s just not easy to get to. In fact, it’s kind of difficult. And Nevada is often overlooked by landscape photographers. Actually, I’m writing this from the Las Vegas airport and am waiting to pick up my mother, so we can spend a week traveling on the Colorado Plateau, and I went to all the art galleries that I could find along the Las Vegas Strip, and there were no photographs of Nevada, not even Red Rock Canyon or Lake Tahoe. I absolutely love making photographs in Nevada; it’s challenging and fun, and the light is just as good, if not better, than anywhere else in the world.

Tighter and Vertical View of Rainbow Seen from Tikaboo Peak, Nevada

Light Rays Over Mountains on Western Side of Area 51


Area 51 Sunset


“Makes You Think All The World’s a Sunny Day”: My First Time Teaching College Photography

Some of my photography students during hour golden hour photography meet up at the TMCC overflow parking lot.


I know what it’s like to have taught a class that the majority of the students hated from day one. I’ve done it, and it’s tough. It was always disheartening to declare on the first day that students would be reading hundreds of pages of texts that are difficult to relate to and older than dirt, and I could often sense the fear and resentment after they were told that they would write several essays about these texts which would be meticulously graded. I’ve taught classes like that a few times, and I’m relieved to finally have the chance to teach photography, a subject that both I am passionate about and students choose to take on their own.

It was a  lot of hard work getting started, and learning how to approach teaching sophisticated software like Photoshop and Lightroom was challenging. Honestly though, I think everything went well, and I’m confident that my first group of image-engineers thought of this as a very positive experience.  I expected the motivation factor in the class to be much higher than what I was used to, but being overzealous was the one thing that made me wary. I’ve had a few professors in the past who tended to feel the need to prove themselves by loading their students down with tons of work and requiring them to do much more than an experienced professor would require. All this being considered I still wondered if I could get away with being overzealous in this photography class? I really wanted to because I wanted to make sure that my students got their money’s worth. I also wanted to know how much I could feasibly teach them during one semester, and overzealous or not, the students in my photo class basically did more work than the photo 1 class at one of the most distinguished universities in the world. My goal was to make sure that every assignment would teach them something new and help them develop into a better photographer. I think that there was a significant improvement in every students’ photography throughout the semester, and I received permission to use some of their images in this blog which shows some  photos from each of the assignments and describes a little bit about what I hoped they’d learn. Enough about that, let’s get to the good stuff: their photos.

Assignment 1: Bad Photos  For this assignment, my goal was to show them some of the things that ultimately make a bad photo, but I wanted them to intentionally make their “bad photos” with the goal of creating something aesthetically pleasing. These weren’t the best batch of images from the class, but I did like some of the photos, and I think they learned some things to try to avoid. One of the requirements was to intentionally shoot something out of focus.

Out of Focus Fire Embers — Photo by Kyla Kosher

Assignment 2: Sports and Action For the second assignment, the goal was to get the students thinking about shutter speeds, and how they handle motion in a photograph. They were asked to turn in images that froze motion, blurred motion, and a set of images that represented a burst of motion in three photos. This was my own first assignment during my first photography class back in the 1990s, and I think it is a great way to introduce manual exposure. There were several images turned in that I liked a lot. These are just a few of them.

Might as well Jump at Reno Airport — Photo by Kyla Kosher


Capturing Motion — Photo by Mayra Santiago

Action Series — Photo by Maximus Ciesynski

Assignment 3: Macro For their third assignment, I wanted the students to take closeup photos. The assignment teaches how critical focusing is when composing a photograph, especially when the subject is very close. All lenses have different minimum focus distances, and this is a good way of learning how close that one can get without losing focus.

Totally Buggy — Photo by Deborah Rife

Closeup of Orange Peel — Photo by Mayra Santiago

Old Soccer Ball Detail — Photo by Adriana Aguirre

Closeup of Snake photo by Lori Ketner


Assignment 4: Architecture The architecture assignment is a good way to show students how lines are distorted in photographs. Most cameras don’t allow tilts and shifts to correct the way that lines bend in an image, and it’s hard for a beginner to notice this until they see it. I also introduced panoramic stitching in this assignment and showed them how to stitch together panoramics by shooting vertical images which overlap each other.

Repeating Patterns of Architecture — Photo by Jovanna Rivera

No Vanishing Point in Architecture — Photo by Frank Testa

Framed from Nevada Museum of Art — Photo by Jovanna Rivera


Assignment 5: Still Life The still life assignment was a lot of fun for me because I taught them some Photoshop magic tricks. Part of the assignment was to make something appear like it was levitating, and that was the most challenging part of the assignment.

Photoshop Magic, Levitating Coffee Cup — Photo by Mayra Santiago

Assignment 6: Portraiture With the portraiture assignment, I asked the students to make photographs of people in various types of light. It was intended to show how changing the light source can drastically change the way a person looks. My favorite part of the assignment was the environmental portrait requirement. It forced the students to get out of their comfort zone a little bit, and some of them went out and asked complete strangers to pose at a location which defines them. A lot of these images reminded me of my days as a photojournalist.

Environmental Portrait — Photo by Adriana Aguirre

A Child’s Perspective photo by Teresa Hunsaker


Portrait with Flash & Ambient Light photo by Jovanna Rivera

Assignment 7: Landscapes The landscape assignment was my favorite, and that’s because it’s what I do the most with my own photography, so I saved the assignment until the week before spring break. I asked them to shoot in various lighting conditions, and they also had to put together another stitched panoramic. The hardest part of the assignment was for them to find an S-curve in a photo. A lot of their s-curves weren’t obvious, and I doubt I’ll keep the requirement in future classes. One really fun thing about this assignment was that I cancelled class one day and instead met the class during sunrise and sunset at an awesome overlook of Reno that can be seen from the community college’s overflow parking lot. I couldn’t require them to show, but most of them did, and it was a lot of fun.

S-Curve along Nevada Road — Photo by Kyla Kosher

Stamped Reservoir — Photo by Deborah Rife

Highway S-Curve — Photo by Teresa Hunsaker

Reno Panoramic — Photo by Rickie Archer

Assignment 8 – Lighting For the eight assignment, I printed out a document with descriptions of several different types of lighting and asked them to make at least five different photographs that use different types of light. Finding aesthetically pleasing subjects was not required, but many students went ahead and searched out some really nice stuff.

Dusk on the Edges of Reno — Photo by Josh Brownlee

Late Evening at Sparks Marina, Photo by Adriana Aguirre

Assignment 9: Photojournalism This assignment seemed to be one of the least liked assignments of the semester, and I think it’s because it forced the students to get out of their comfort zones a little bit. I felt kind of mean, but I banned images of family members, and the photographer was required to submit 3-5 images that work together to tell a story. I also required captions. Out of my 11 assignments, they were allowed to flake out on one without any penalty, and this one was the most flaked. Regardless, here are two photojournalism projects from the class.

I had been to the museum once before about 8 years ago and this car was the one that I have been wanting to get back there to see. I tried to capture the exterior of the car but restriction with lens, light and positioning did not do the car justice. The car is a stripped 1938 Corsair Westchester Sedan with a Granatelli modified 192 horsepower supercharged Cord motor, the body was constructed by Maurice Schwartz of Bohman & Schwartz Body Company. It starred in the 1938 movie The Young at Heart where it was called the ‘Flying Wombat. The body is a one of a kind shell That changed the dynamics of the interior greatly. one passenger out of 6 can sit on the left of the driver. Photo by Josh Brownlee


Late 1800s horseless carriage. I thought that this perpendicular angle help capture the simplicity of the vehicle. It appears as though safety was not a big concern in the 1880s. Photo by Josh Brownlee


Late in my visit to the exhibits I had switched back to my wide lens and knew that I would want a shot showing how big the rooms are that hold the cars. My tripod can get down to about one and a half feet off the ground or just over six feet high. I always want to capture a unique angle so I collapsed the legs of the tripod and held it up so I was holding the lower sections of the legs and I tried pushing the camera against the air ducts above me to try and brace and keep the shot still. If you notice in the mid to upper left of frame by the yellow car Docent Stan had just come into the room. He caught me holding my camera up high. After I showed him this file he agreed that my innovative technique was a good idea. Photo by Josh Brownlee


Stan is a very accommodating, gracious gentlemen and his wealth of knowledge that will keep you riveted to the fine details in the history of a lot of the automobiles on display. In a good list of amazing facts he talked about he pointed out the crude old style wheel balancer that is in frame just above his right hand. The examples of the progression of technology in one building is hard to wrap your head around. Photo by Josh Brownlee


Dave worked as a volunteer to start then made a new career. Photo by Searra Marie


Small tourist town glasswork shop tuns big time! Photo by Searra Marie

Assignment 10: HDR The tenth assignment covered HDR (high dynamic range) photography. It’s really popular right now, and a lot of people are interested in it, so I decided to add it to the semester. For the assignment, they were to shoot at least 3 images of the same thing but have each image exposed for a different part of the subject. It requires at least shooting one exposure for shadows, one for midtones, and one for highlights, and after the photographic procedure, the files are blended together into one image. It can be used very conservatively where most people will not notice, and it can also be really cooked and will resemble a Star Trek movie set.

Surreal Mt. Rose in HDR photo by Teresa Hunsaker

Assignment 11: Nighttime Photography The last assignment, night photography, was one of my favorites. I liked saving it for last because it is probably the most challenging, and this was an easy decision for the spring semester. I might have to do it earlier in the fall semester because of the cold weather. Another thing that added to the fun of this assignment is that nearly half the class joined me for a three hour photo shoot at Fort Churchill State Park. For the assignment, they were required to photograph one nature scene and one architectural scene at night. They were also asked to turn in another image which contained some sort of light painting.

Fort Churchill Stars, Nevada photo by Josh Brownlee


Moonlit Waterfall Near Big Springs photo by Teresa Hunsaker


Nighttime Reno Bridge photo by Adriana Aguirre

Photography has always meant a lot to me, and I am thankful to have finally had the opportunity to teach it. It didn’t feel like work, honestly. I mean the grading and the attendance taking, that’s work. But teaching some techniques that hopefully students will be able to use to richen the rest of their lives is too much fun and rewarding to be work. I’m already looking forward to doing it again next semester.

Trailed by Hounds: Twenty Hikes Within an Hour of Reno (part 1)

Stitched Panoramic from Huffaker Hills Trail, Reno, Nevada

A lot of people think that deserts are always hot with unbearable triple-digit temperatures, but the residents of Reno know that this is a misconception. The winters can be rough, and there have been years when the temperature doesn’t rise above 50 degrees for several months, and spring is really just like an epic battle between winter and summer which could represent Ali – Frazier IV. So during these cold and often windy days, outdoor fanatics have to pass their time with winter sports or travel to warmer climates to the south or further to the west. However, once it does warm up a little, and the wind calms its gusty temper, the area offers some of the best hiking opportunities that can be found. It looks like this year is going to be milder than most, and I’ve already been lacing up the boots and busting out the silk-weight boxer shorts and synthetic, non-cotton clothing, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite hikes that are within an hour’s drive of the “Biggest Little City in the World.” This will be a four part blog, and it will very likely be spaced out between other blogs.

Moonlight on Hunter Creek Canyon, Reno, Nevada

Hunter Creek Trail: When I first moved to Reno and started looking through a hiking guidebook, I read about Hunter Creek Falls and decided to make it one of my first hikes because it was hard for me to believe that there was a waterfall on the western edge of town. This was almost five years ago during a warm July day, and I wore shorts and quickly regretted the decision. The trail was in horrible condition back then, and my legs were all kinds of scratched up from working through the brush. I also lost the trail a few times and kind of forgot about it after finishing the hike. Recently, I heard that there was a lot of maintenance on the trail and decided to make my second hike to the waterfall. The amount of improvement was very surprising, and honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trail ever have such a nice makeover. It was so nice and easy to follow that I stayed at the waterfall until after dark and made the hike back to the truck under guidance of moonlight and my headlamp. I don’t recommend night hiking for everyone, but it worked out well for me. To get there, head west on Mayberry Drive off of West McCarren, make a left on Plateau and head up the hill until the road ends at the parking lot. There are even nice restrooms to use before the seven mile hike.

Early Spring at Hunter Creek Falls, Reno, Nevada

Steamboat Ditch Trail: As a photographer, I don’t find the Steamboat Ditch Trail all that aesthetically pleasing, but I’ve hiked the trail more than any other in the area. It was my exercise / brainstorming / blow of steam hike when I lived nearby, and, on a positive note, it does offer many spurs and separate routes which climb up into the mountains towering over the edge of town. The trail actually has several different starting points, and I’ve always began from parking area near the Patagonia Outlet and the old bridge over the Truckee River. The ditch actually brings in some of the city’s water supply, and there is an interesting man-made irrigation tunnel about two miles from where the hike begins. On the downside, the trail can be very crowded, and many people let their dogs run wild and unleashed. One time a pit-bull ran straight at me from about twenty yards away, and I was very frightened. I nearly tried giving my totally amateur Bruce Lee impersonation on the dog, but the owner called the it away and my moderate good looks were preserved. To get there, take west 4th Street a few miles west from it’s junction with West McCarren. Make a left on Woodland Avenue and a quick right on White Fir Street. The railroad runs right across Woodland Ave, so don’t be in a big hurry if stuck at a crossing.

Evening along Steamboat Ditch Trail, Reno, Nevada

Huffaker Hills Trail: Along the opposite, southeastern edge of Reno lies the Huffaker Hills Trail. I’ve only hiked it a few times because it’s a longer drive for me, but it is a very nice place to hike, and there are phenomenal views available of Washoe Valley and Mt. Rose. I’ve only made the hike at sunset or sunrise, but I’ve heard that there are good wildflowers there late in the spring if the conditions are right. I didn’t see any during my last visit, but I think overall, this will be a bad year for flowers because of the low amount of rain and snow. There is a small reservoir nearby, and bugs were annoying during a late June visit a couple years ago. To get there, take East McCarren towards Sparks. It’s a little easy to miss the turn, but after passing Trader Joes on the left, look for Alexander Lake Road on the right. It’s kind of hard to see, but it’s right after Longley Lane.

Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail: Other than sometimes being covered in snow, the Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail is designed to be accessible for nearly everyone. It’s wheel chair friendly and almost completely flat. There is a lush meadow and some really beautiful trees, and some of the higher vantage points have views of Lake Tahoe. I went there three times to participate in the orientation for my graduate program at UNR, and one time we had really cold weather and a little hail there during the end of August. The location is much higher up than Reno, and it requires a drive along one of my favorite roads in Nevada: the Mt. Rose Highway. To get there, take Mt. Rose Highway (SR 431) towards Lake Tahoe. Once hitting the high point of the road, keep an eye out for a parking are with restrooms down the hill on the left. A little further down the road is the official Tahoe Meadows area. I’ll write more about that in a future blog.

Remnants of a Late Spring Snow along Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail

Chimney Beach Trail: The last trail mentioned in part one of this blog is located along one of the most scenic areas of my favorite lake in the world: Lake Tahoe. How could I ever write a blog about the hiking opportunities near Reno without mentioning it. It’s been a place of refuge for me and almost like a girlfriend during the past five years. I’m terrified of needles and won’t do it, but I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo of the outline of the lake on my shoulder. It’s that freakin’ awesome and means that much to me! No offense to California, but much of the shoreline on the western side of the lake has been californicated. There are mansions, residential areas, and boat docks all along the shoreline, and most of it is inaccessible. Thankfully, however, much of the eastern side along the Nevada shoreline is protected and accessible to visitors, although the parking is very limited. It does get crowded though, and once it gets warm nudists will be present. I learned that the hard way, no pun intended. A little over a mile down from the Chimney Beach Trail is a place that some call Secret Cove, but I refer to it as Junk-Jigglers’ Cove. It’s an amazingly beautiful spot, don’t get me wrong, but once it warms up, it’s not a place for children, the elderly, or the squeamish. And there’s really nothing exciting to see except for a bunch of naked dudes who like to let it all hang out… The trail-head is located along Nevada Highway 28 about 4.5 miles north of the U.S. 50 intersection. There is a small parking lot which is often closed to traffic, and there are a few places to park legally along the highway. Remember… go early in the morning or when the weather is still fairly cold unless you want to see the junk-jigglars.

Quiet Early Morning at Secret Cove, Lake Tahoe, Nevada


We Went for a Walk on Some Winter Days: Backpacking California’s Lost Coast

Sunset View from Sea Lion Gulch, California’s Lost Coast




Between 1930 and 1964, California’s Highway 1 was constructed, and the famous road has since provided a white-knuckle and inspiring drive from Southern California to its northern terminus in Legget, California. It is considered one of the most scenic drives in the United States, and millions of tourists drive it during their vacations while traveling around places like Los Angeles, Malibu, San Simeon, Big Sur, Monterey, and San Francisco, but once the highway department made it up to the northern coast in Humboldt County, they ran into an obstacle that was too much for their dynamite and construction crews to handle: The King Range. The rugged area receives over a hundred inches of rain a year and is as wild as any coastal area in North America. Once the survey crews of the highway department began to look around they decided to go inland, and because of this we have the Lost Coast, one of the only true coastal wilderness areas on the continent.

Footprints in the Sand, California’s Lost Coast

I’ve been backpacking since the late 90s and have found it to be the best way to enjoy being in nature while pursueing my passion of landscape photography. It is also one of the only ways for me to get anything original. Yes, we have all seen the famous views of all the roadside attractions that are available, and they are amazing, but I really like to try to get something different. So after convincing , Patrick Russell, a friend in my adopted hometown of Reno, to join me for the hike we began to plan for several months. Ironically, Patrick, like me, is from Arkansas and began his hiking career in the Ozark Mountains. He is also pursuing the same master’s degree at the University of Nevada that I completed in 2011.

Cliffside View of Shipman’s Creek at California’s Lost Coast

We began planning for the trip in December after I mentioned wanting to do the hike for a long time. I knew it was going to be adventurous, somewhat strenuous, and maybe even a little dangerous; there are three sections of the twenty-four mile trail that are impassible during high tide, and people have died. We read blogs, looked at maps, watched videos on YouTube and Vimeo, and were a little worried that the conditions were going to be miserable. One video we watched was thirty minutes long, and it looked like the hikers endured heavy storms during all of their trek. I even showed the video to my mother, and she said, “It looks like the only time they had any fun was when they were at the restaurant after the hike.” It seemed funny to me, but I have had a few miserable hikes in the past, and I know what it’s like to be trudging through the tundra, mile after mile during horrible weather or  unfortunate injury.

Lost Coast Arkies on California’s Lost Coast


Patrick and I are both college-level teachers, and we decided to begin our hike as soon as our spring break began. It was definitely a gamble because it’s also the peak of the rainy season along Northern California’s coastal ranges, and it would be very likely that we’d be getting into some rain. I tried to expect the worse in order to be prepared, and I think Patrick did as well. We both had sufficient rain gear, warm clothing, and new tents. I even had a new tripod because I broke the not-so-quite-old-faithful one while snowshoeing near Reno the weekend before the departure.




Sunset at Mouth of Big Creek, California’s Lost Coast


I’ve often joked that being an Oregon weatherman would be the easiest job in the world; all you’d have to do is tell everyone that it’s going to rain every day. Being close to Oregon, I was sure it would be the same for Shelter Cove where we would setup our vehicular shuttle and end our southbound hike, but the weather forecast for the town changed every single day for several weeks.

Sunset View at Mouth of Shipman’s Creek, California’s Lost Coast


“Dude, it’s going to be a crapshoot,” I predicted during our final pre-hike meeting in Reno.

“I know, I just hope we get at least one nice day,” Patrick replied hopefully.

But we lucked out like someone hitting the jackpot on one of Reno’s tightest slot-machines; the weather was amazing. Sure, it was a little cool at times, and the wind picked up once in a while, but we didn’t have a single drop of rain; the creeks which we had to cross weren’t even very deep. I only took off my boots one time for a creek crossing, and I don’t think Patrick did at all.

Shipman’s Creek, California’s Lost Coast


Camping next to the ocean should be on everyone’s bucket list. There’s really nothing quite like listening to the waves crash against the shoreline while nodding off to sleep. Unfortunately, most of the places where one might camp are going to have their experience lessoned by some noise pollution, but that’s not something to worry about on the Lost Coast. Yes, one evening the seals near Seal Harbor Gulch grunted all night long and almost sounded like they were right outside our tents, but that really just added to the wilderness experience. It was much more soothing than the sound of cars, electric generators, and loud tourists. Thank you King Range for being in the way!

Star Trails over My Tent, California’s Lost Coast

How Many Years Can a Mountain Exist: Travels to California’s Cascades

Do you remember what it felt like on your last day of school before summer vacation? Did time seem to slow down and make the last week seem like a month? For me, it was euphoric, and I jubilated out the building every year like I had just broken an Olympic world record. When I was younger, the summer break was what life was all about. That’s when the real education took place; the rest of the year was mostly just about biding time for June. The break was a time of baseball games, swimming, camping, concerts, and staying up all night. It was the closest thing to true freedom that I ever experienced.

Now, as a full-time part time teacher working at two different schools, I get to relive this great childhood experience again. School isn’t a drag to me anymore, and I love teaching, but I still become anxious to continue my personal education every year when the spring semester ends.

Except this summer I’ll be beginning my new photography business. I have large light-jet prints available along with medium and smaller sized archival inkjet prints that I’m making at home. I spent a great amount of time this winter and early spring preparing for art fair applications and was accepted to quite a few in Nevada and California. During the past few months, I’ve been preparing and bought display walls, a 10x10EZ-UP, and two print bins. This October I have a gallery showing at the Warner Weavers Gallery in Cedarville, California where there will be a pot-luck reception on October 6th. You’re invited if you can attend. It’s in a lovely area near the northeast corner of California.

Photograph taken after first time setting up my display tent for art fairs

So, I decided to make a few trips this year to Northern California in order to have more local images available at the gallery in Cedarville. There are numerous fantastic scenic areas nearby, and I chose to go after Mt. Shasta first, but Lassen Volcanic National Park was actually my first stop. It was about as far as I could get and still have a good chance for good light. At least I had made a visit there in August of 2008 and had a decent idea for a sunset location; Ansel Adams’ previsualization theory might have to work or at least get me close to somewhere else photogenic during the golden hour.

Stormlight at Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Manzanita Lake has a few places to park close to the entrance to the general store and campground, but I decided to continue driving down the road a few more miles and found an awesome place to pull over that highlighted the remains of a volcanic eruption. It was a little difficult to walk on it, but after about 300 yards of walking on the rocks, I found a moss-covered tree in front of a beautiful mountain vista. It was a great place to enjoy the evening. The sun was between some clouds, and the light on the mountains changed constantly.

Late Evening at Manzanita Lake and Mt. Lassen, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

There was still a bit of alpenglow on Mt. Lassen when I passed it on the way out, and I photographed it before heading towards the Black Butte Campground, a scenic and remote part of Lassen National Park. The location contains some very scenic areas, camping, and long distance backpacking options. Having seen some recent photographs of a volcanic area referred to as the Cinder Cone, I decided to make this my early morning sunrise location. The amazing trail climbed gradually through vistas and volcanic remains. It was incredibly beautiful, and I would love to have a backcountry experience here some day.

Early Morning at Black Butte Lake, Lassen Volcanic  National Park, California

Morning at the Cinder Cone, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

The next destination was Fowler’s Campground near the McCloud River close to the south side of Mt. Shasta. It was a pretty nice public campground. There were quite a few people, but all the spaces seemed to have a bit of room. There were three nice waterfalls with a lot of flowing water nearby. Dogwood blooms were also at peak.

Dogwood Blooms at the McCloud River, California

I’ve been drawn to Mt. Shasta since 1997 when me and a best friend went on a three week road trip to see some Phish concerts and visit National Parks in the West. One day we had a late departure from San Francisco and had to be in Southern Washington before 7PM the following day. Our intentions were to make it at least to Central Oregon in order to not have a tough drive, but I insisted on stopping for the night after we began to see the distant views of Mt. Shasta. For some reason, I felt like it would be some sort of travesty if we continued on without camping near California’s tallest Cascade. We actually paid to camp at a campground, but drove up a steep road to a hillside view and camped there. I made photographs during sunset and sunrise that were decent at best. The following day we made it to our planned destination just on time.

Cloudy Sunset at Mt. Shasta, California

I have admired Mt. Shasta since that first time in 1997, and I am honestly a little ashamed of myself for taking four years to return while having it only a four hour drive away. It’s one of those places that I could photograph every day. I love how it has so many different views and angles and is a magnet for incoming weather; it’s so tall and massive that it creates its own patterns of unbelievable cloud coverage. No wonder it’s also seen as a vortex site with mystical powers.

First Day Sunrise at Mt. Shasta, California

I’ve been camping since I was a little kid, and my grandfather often took me in the summer. He had a camper that he pulled behind his truck, and we’d cook marshmellows and hot dogs by a fire, go boating, and spend a lot of time just visiting. These were my first camping memories, and I’ve been doing it ever since. However, during my first grade year, I learned just how important camping is after almost having to forfeit an entire summer of it after making an unsatisfactory behavior grade on my report card. I couldn’t shut up in class and was in trouble. My parents said that if I made another unsatisfactory grade that I would not be allowed to camp with my grandfather during the upcoming summer, and the threat worked. I never made another U in behavior. There were some S- grades (satisfactory minus), but at least they weren’t a dreaded, summer killing U. That was all I cared about… the summer vacation, and the camping. It’s still one of my favorite things to do in the world. Grandpa can’t go with me anymore, but at almost 95 years old, he can still look at the pictures.

Second Day Sunrise, Mt. Shasta, California

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