Friday, July 17, 2015

Photos from the ground and the air at Union Valley Reservoir in Northern California

Earlier this week, I was able to carve out some time to join my family for the annual camping trip to Union Valley Reservoir. This is is a really nice spot, not too far from Lake Tahoe. But unlike Tahoe, this is a quiet little spot with very few people and wide open spaces. And you know that I brought my Canon DSLR (5D Mark III with the 24-105mm lens) to capture photos. And this time, for the first time ever, I also brought along my DJI Phantom 3 Advanced to get some aerial photos and videos of the lake and the some water sports action.

Heck, I didn't even make it to the camping site before launching the drone. As I drove up Ice House Road, heading to the reservoir, I decided to pull over and get an aerial shot of the surroundings. I loved the big puffy clouds and endless trees.

My family and my wife's extended family and friends, had been camping for 5 days before I was able to join them. I arrived on Saturday afternoon and tried as hard as I could to slow down. If you know me, you know that I move at a fast pace, and it is not easy for me to slow down and relax. One way that I do relax is when I break out the camera and capture photos. This allows me to slow down and take in the scenes around me.

This was one of the first photos that I took at the reservoir. The water level is much lower than normal due to the drought that we are suffering from in California, and there is new vegetation growing on the extended shoreline.

The next morning, I woke up early to take the dog for a walk. As we started our walk, I looked out over the reservoir and saw this perfectly still water with these great reflections. I walked straight back to the camp, grabbed my camera and started shooting. I almost didn't turn around for my camera, but I am really glad that I did. This was the only time that I saw the water so still and really like this photo. The dog was not happy, but I made it up to him with a really long walk a little later. (Photographer's note: I decided to include the boat in the photo for a couple of reasons. It helps show the scale of the rocks and trees and the red color really pops from the bottom left of the image.)

Later in the afternoon, the overcast skies had cleared and we had more of those really nice clouds. I decided to put the Phantom 3 back up in the air to get some wide aerial shots.

These aerial shots really show the decreased water levels. And this is the beginning of summer. I can only imagine what these same images would look like in another month or two.

Just for fun, I decided to rotate the camera of the drone straight down on our beach setup.

On the second day, I did a little impromptu photo class for my nephew's girlfriend, Julie. She really loves photography, and it was fun to share the photo passion with her.

As part of the lesson, I decided to get my nephew, Shane, into the fun. I was showing Julie how to use an external flash to create directional light. Using Shane as our model, I moved him next to one of the white camper shells, had him look towards the camper and bounced the flash off of the white wall. This was taken in broad daylight, but I used the manual settings of the camera to darken the scene. (Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens, ISO 100, f/13, 1/200 sec, Canon 600 EX-RT flash in TTL +1/2 stop)

On Monday, I decided to take some risks with the Phantom 3. I figured that with all of my experience flying the drone, that I could shoot video of the kids on their wakeboard from the back of the boat. I had a blast following them, shooting video, as we motored around the reservoir.

These are a couple of screen grabs from those videos. (I am hoping to have the videos edited and posted soon.) I just love the unique perspective that these aerial cameras bring to us photographers.

Late in the afternoon, on our last day at Union Valley, I saw this white reflection on the water. I had to move to a different location to find the source of that reflection. There was this huge cumulous cloud out in the distance.

As night fell, Julie asked me if we could do some night shots. And you know that I LOVE night photography! I went to my car and grabbed the Gitzo tripod with the Acratech ballhead and cable release from my trunk.

It was time to capture some night shots of the AMAZING sky!

(Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens at 24mm, ISO 2500, f/4, 41 sec)
Julie and I walked down to the beach area, away from all the lights of the campfire. I set the Canon 5D Mark III on the Gitzo tripod and set the camera at .... We tried different settings to determine the best for this scene. I prefer to use lower ISO settings, but this meant that my shutter speed would be longer and the stars would be streaked (showing the Earth's movement).

(Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens at 24mm, ISO 6400, f/4, 20 sec)
This was my favorite night shot, showing the Milky Way to the left of the silhouetted trees. Spending most of my time in cities, I rarely get the chance to see a sky lit up like this. I am not sure what caused the orange light just over the mountain tops, but assume that it was light from a distant town. But I love the detail in the night sky.

This is one of those photos can can not tell the full story. As we stood there, waiting for the camera to capture each image, it was so mesmerizing. Looking up at all those stars, so bright and colorful, it didn't even look real.


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Deeker said...

I enjoy reading your posts on the blog. Thanks for sharing the knowledge you've gained over the years. It's been very helpful.

I've got a question, however... How do I get good starry sky photos when my older DSLR only has a max ISO of 1600 and a max shutter time of 30 seconds?

Dale said...

Beautiful photos, i love the colour and sharpness.

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Each photos are looking spanking . Liked these all . Specially these natural photos are more impressive .

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Alisa Lira said...

Great work. All photos are beautiful. Keep it up.

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Mark Jonathan said...

Your camping trip to Union Valley Reservoir sounds incredible! The photos you captured, both from the ground and the air, beautifully showcase the serene beauty of the location. From stunning reflections on the water to dynamic aerial shots, your Canon DSLR and DJI Phantom 3 Advanced brought unique perspectives to life. The night sky images are especially mesmerizing. Thanks for sharing your experience and tips – looking forward to seeing more of your work!