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NEXT:  Page 12   North Crane Creek
2018 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Walker River basin 10/10
Walker River basin 10/11
Walker River basin 10/12
Walker River basin 10/13
SR120 Yosemite 10/26

2018 Trip Chronicles:  Page 11

Walker River basin

It took 6 days to complete image processing and html coding after the North Fork of Bishop Creek road trip to put Page 10 of my 2018 Trip Chronicles up on my site. And most of those days I put in at least 10 hours in front of my computer. Image processing using focus stack blending and stitch blending is considerably more complex and tedious than processing single files in Photoshop. And that is on top of it being more complex out in the field taking a set of shots for a subject intended to form a composite single image. I only work with jpg's thus do not use Lightroom or RAW those who take single frame images may use, so that reduces processing overhead. Note using RAW has little value if one is stitch blending shots that end up much larger than any benefit from increased detail using RAW. Additionally, Photoshop software blends together jpg's with less artifacts if shots were all taken with same camera settings.

Focus stack blending post processing takes much more effort when an image has element movement between shots. And with fall leaf work, even the slightest breezes will cause out of registration leaf and branch movement between focus stacked shots. The Zerene Stacker program I use allows choosing which shots in a set to select specific sections of by using circular brushes of variable size. Thus if say, a single leaf is always moving some in the full image of a tree with leaves, one can move through the individual shots in a focus stack single frame set until finding one with the leaf both in focus and not moving to select just those pixels in that shot for that small section of the full image. When that software finds say 3 shots all with the particular leaf in reasonable focus but out of registration due to movement within a set of say 12 shots, all 3 frames are superimposed in the initial automatically generated composite output that must be worked on to select just those pixels from a single shot. Beyond just a few such moving elements in an image and the amount of tedious processing work at 100% magnification quickly becomes too much to bother with. At the high detail level of a 24 megapixel camera like the A6000 that has a 6000 by 4000 pixel sensor, even the slightest out of registration element will cause mis-registration on edges that has a characteristic ugly very noticeable look. Additionally are a list of other issues to possibly deal with beyond mis-registration. If downsized for web use, such may not be noticeable, however at full detail 100% magnification, such is quite noticeable on a high end monitor and will also be on any print.


When a subject has just a minor amount of movement, say the same tree subject with a few fluttering leaves, I may instead process with Photoshop that is better at choosing single shots from a set while warping element movement slightly to come into registration. However as a less sophisticated process, it also tends to generate artifacts and does so increasingly with more out of registration elements that have to be processed out with say a clone tool or masked blending. After focus stack sets have been so processed into individual frames, then I use Autopano Kolor Pro to stitch blend combine the frames into a composite image. One can again just use Photoshop, however that often results in artifacts that are impossible to work around.

For instance a smooth level ridgeline of a mountain scene might end up with an abrupt jagged cliff-like section where the software had warped sections between frames so much that it could not combine them correctly. Sometimes the software will simply duplicate nearby sections to fill the space, all of which is very noticeable. Worse there are certain types of colors and textures it tends to turn to out of focus mush. For all these reasons, I am confident there are few other serious photographers with the technical skills for creating these highly detailed images that can be far larger than even the most expensive DSLR camera single shots or even drum scanned large format film. Even if one purchases these complementing programs, there is little either in books or online in tutorials or guides for figuring out how to do the work. Almost all focus stacking information online is for macro work and not landscape images. Also stitch blending is more oriented towards small web sized images where artifacts are likely to be so small as to be unnoticeable. If images with depth of field requirements as is the case with many landscape subjects having a foreground, mid ground, and background, are simply stitch blended using single small apertures per frame, results will be significantly softer due to diffraction degradation versus using a best lens aperture, so will require downsizing for a similar level of sharp detail. Otherwise with a sharp lens like my Sigma 60mm DN using it sharpest aperture of F5.6, a whole frame with focus stacking can be very sharp even at 100% pixels.

During the week before I left, weather forecasts were showing two minor inside slider storms the following Wednesday through Thursday moving down from the Northwest into Nevada that would provide a glancing blow to the Eastern Sierra with clouds and even a dusting of snow above 9000 feet. With a chance for diffuse cloud lighting in aspen grove understories and interesting weather, I decided to return during that period and work areas to the north in Mono County. I had also developed a plantar facitis condition on my right foot for the first time ever that had slowly developed over months of the summer due to all my brutal hiking carrying extra weight. To help alleviate that while walking, I fashioned up a neoprene insole with a hole cutout where the swollen big ligament attaches to the heal bone.

Thus mid morning Wednesday morning October 10, 2018, I headed out east on freeways, crossing the Sierra Nevada on SR108 over Sonora Pass. And indeed skies east of the crest were dominated by clouds though no showers had developed. Along the way took a look at Leavitt Creek gorge and confirmed most creek dogwood were no longer in color though some shrubs west of the pass were still at peak red. A crop with red dogwood leaves and stems from one image on my return home is above right. Continuing south on US395, I observed usual aspen groves including those at Conway Summit at 8.1k, were still surprisingly green without leaf color changes, while areas just a few hundred feet higher were peaking. Continuing south, I went as far as June Lake Loop where conditions were either still rather green or color was not as vibrant. The latter was likely due to the unusual 2018 summer weather with a wet May and July between a dry June and August, plus generally above normal temperatures. I turned around, and drove back north to overnight out in a favorite remote disperse camping spot east of Mono Craters. By late afternoon snow showers were dusting some crest areas and winds had increased.

All the hiking about had aggravated my right foot plantar facitis making it a bit more sore but not so much that a few days of hiking would set me back much on its slow healing period. I tended to walk on my forefoot without putting strong pressure on the heal and while moving through terrain would make stronger down steps with my good left foot.


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By dawn Thursday October 11, 2018, clouds only remained in half the sky with the temperature a chilly 26F degrees with a light breeze. With most lower grove areas surprisingly still green after 12 days, I needed to focus on a bit higher areas than I had expected. Thus drove north to Virginia Creek areas within the Walker River Basin and worked the above image at a familiar grove with orange to red leaved trees in cold still air before breezes began to jostle leaves. Nicely, patches of mostly blue sky were above my position while clouds still blocked the sun, still low in altitude to the east.

Wandering through a tangle of clone aspen with reasonable mixed diffuse cloud and sky light, then shot the image at page top with 3 dancing aspen trunks within a canopy of candy cane leaves. The image required some tricky post processing using a mask to blend in a couple frames replacing the otherwise unusable focus stack result as some dry grasses in the foreground kept moving from a sumping flow near the ground. I quite enjoy the monkeying gymnastic effort of carefully slowly wandering through such dense tangles of quaking aspen, populus tremulides, while looking for subjects as long as below is not talus or piles of fallen logs. The translucent yellow, orange, and red leaves filter light providing delightful warm light with glowing vibrant leaf views against sky. In order to be able to bushwhack through such I always wear Levi 505 jeans with its robust denim and a cheap thin nylon shell on top protecting whatever clothing underneath. This morning with sub-freezing temperatures, that included several inner layers.

A breeze increasingly developed as I drove north on other back roads of the Walker River basin. By noon skies had darkened, breezes were impossible for shooting, and showers were moving in over Sierra Crest peaks. I did quite a bit of frustrated stopping and hiking about looking for subjects to return to. By mid afternoon finally found the goods in one of the drainages so set up a dispersed camping spot near a stream spending the rest of the afternoon exploring that zone. By late afternoon with temperatures in low 40s, bouts of showers including a couple with hail, kept me car bound as I had decided to sleep in the Forester without tenting. During the evening, weather decreased as the circulation moved east of Nevada with skies clearing by the wee hours causing temperatures to plummet due to radiation cooling.


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During the night I had looked at topographic maps of the area and come up with a plan. These were areas I had worked a couple decades earlier with a large format film view camera and backpacked into several times so had a modest knowledge of aspen groves in the area. However I still needed to do a modest amount of exploring. At dawn Friday October 12, 2018, I was out of the Subaru wearing lots of warm clothing as the temperature showed 26F degrees while switching around gear. Thus drove off to get closer to my area of hiking interest and as the sun put warm light on crest peaks about 7am, headed out up a trail on what would be a few miles morning round trip effort with considerable awkward off trail landscapes to travel through. The above vibrant 5 column stitch blend image is the second landscape I worked during the morning before breezes made further work difficult. Thus once again spent most of my morning hiking about looking for subjects I hoped to return to the following morning. I did locate more excellent landscape subjects than I could hope to capture during the trip so would just need decent weather conditions.


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Back at my car with temperatures even late morning in mid 30F's, set up next to the car, an old sleeping bag atop a pad and blue plastic ground sheet, then got some lunch cooking with a pile of adjacent magazines and gear. Thus, I whiled away 3 leisurely hours mid day. By mid afternoon I'd had enough of that so set out again to explore some other areas less than a couple miles distance. Breezes were still too strong to consider serious photography so amused myself quite awhile just enjoying scenery, often while listening to classic rock music on my tiny Sandisk Sansa MP3 player and earbuds. I did work the above single frame telephoto subject of leaf colors in the distance as the moving leaves were too distant to be a factor in element movement. Note besides aspen, the red areas are creek dogwood and some of the yellow areas are yellow willow. A bit later, I had attempted to approach the rock outcrop in that image, but had turned back mid way due to unpleasant piles of fallen aspen logs.


With an eye out for small subjects while walking in the shady forest understory, noticed the above little woody shrub skeleton against the ground that I thought might provide some coloring fun later in Photoshop post processing. What I'll call The Wood Nymph. After tediously selecting the otherwise white hued wood with the Lasso Tool, I did a low opacity gradient fill of pink to purple. The actual manipulated image is 5200 by 3600 pixels.


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Jeffrey pine, pinus jeffreyi, grow about many aspen groves and below those trees are often thick mats of their long needles as well as their large pine cones. I kept my eye open below such trees for a situation with aspen leaves so worked the above modest close-up subject with my Sigma 60mm DN lens I prefer for close-up work. Look at the enlarged vertical slice view, to appreciate the fine detail.

By late afternoon I was back at the car, then drove off and parked at a different location to once again disperse camp inside the Forester. Given tall Sierra Crest blocking peaks to the west, such fall leaf photography trip days tend to end early well before sunset. Once sun drops behind a ridge line, cold fall temperatures keep this person that rarely makes campfires, inside a warm sleeping bag reading and dealing with gear. Although the 3 first days of the road trip were marginally productive, I hoped Saturday would make the long drive and effort worthwhile as there were certainly good subjects to work given usable conditions. During the evening, another reason to be glad I was inside my vehicle was the sound of a growling cat less than a couple hundred yards distant that kept at it for about a minute and then repeated such several minutes later as though it might be facing down another cat or critter. Absolutely certain it was a feline species due to its distinctive sound. Suspect it was a bobcat though may have been a mountain lion. Bobcats being smaller and feisty are more likely to face down other creatures like raccoons or coyotes while a lion would just scare them.


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By dawn Saturday October 13, 2018, outside temperatures at my near 8k location had dropped to 21F. Skies were sunny and the air dead still. For fresh air I will leave Forester windows down about an inch from the top. However breathing all night did cause a coating of ice on inside window surfaces so needed to run my defrosting heater on several minutes before driving off. I drove to a new roadside location to start this morning's hike and by 8:30am had reached the location of the above landscape, then had to wait about an hour to allow the shadows at frame left mid ground to recede. That was a dangerous call as I expect the usual up canyon breeze to eventually start. But that did allow time to carefully select what would be a single large image to work using my 60mm lens. The above image is 12300 by 11300 pixels, however the full image variation is 14000 pixels high as I cropped off foreground pixels for aesthetic reasons that was mostly brighter sagebrush and small granite boulders and soil. Poking up at frame lower left are a few of branches a juniper that is otherwise cropped off. It will be an ideal large format subject for visual immersion on 8k monitors with much interesting fine detail.

Beyond the sagebrush are a few jeffrey pine and Sierra juniper trees. The large orange aspen grove is a clone grove where all trees are the same plant that shares a labyrinth of roots over a wide zone that sprout individual short lived trunks. Typically in these glacially scoured granite canyons, bedrock lies just a few feet at most below the surface with tree roots reaching down to that level where water sourced from high above on canyon walls flows underground down against capping bedrock. That is why such quaking aspen groves about higher Sierra Nevada canyon elevations tend to colonize right at the U-shaped base of such slopes. That is also where one finds talus that has broken loose from steeper slopes above, then tumbled down to where such slopes level off. Beyond the orange hued aspen grove is another clone grove that is yellow. Notice the strip of talus between the two groves that shows more at frame left beyond which is a dry blond hued grassy meadow. Beyond that are individual taller aspen trees mixed with what are mainly lodgepole pine trees against granite domes and beyond that dense mixed species forests dominated by lodgepole pine. Although there was a dusting of snow Wednesday night on the big peaks, most of the snow that shows on north facing slopes was from a somewhat larger early season storm a week before. At frame edge left beyond the orange trees is a moraine slope with larger talus colonized with jeffrey pines and sagebrush.


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With breezes beginning, I put on the wider 30mm lens for this smaller above 2 column image closer to the base of the aspen grove with its rather messy foreground.


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Up canyon breezes quickly became unworkable so I decided to monkey right through tangles in the orange clone grove where I shot the above modest close-up that was somewhat more breeze protected.


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On the way back to my car at 12:15pm, worked the above single frame image near a stream where a lush seep ends in a marshy meadow with tall blond grasses and a few yellow willow. Above the willow are dense mostly leafless thin aspen trunks that went through leaf color change earlier as small diameter aspen trees along streamside areas like this tend to shut down water flows earlier than large older trees with roots down to wetter depths, due to especially cold night sumping flows down such water courses.


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Back at my vehicle I continued north on US395 and then west on SR108 while stopping a few times. On the west side of Sonora Pass near the mouth of Deadman Canyon, I stopped at 5:30pm for the above image taken in sky light of the volcanic Mehrten Formation slope with colorful lichens and residual snow.


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For my final modest image of the road trip taken at 6pm Saturday, caught last warm light as sun was dipping below the ridgeline on creek dogwood aka red osier dogwood, cornus occidentalis, and below whitethorn, ceanothus cordulatus. The creek dogwood has wonderful shiny red stems and in fall its leaves also turn a rich red. The species tends to grow along rocky all summer streams and seeps where I try to find it color complementing aspen and willows. The cyan hued whitethorn is a thorny ceanothus species especially common at mid forest elevations of western Sierra Nevada slopes where it presents an unpleasant dense ground cover up to head height I always try to avoid. I do like the red and cyan combination but this subject due to somewhat direct sunlight is more contrasty than optimal. So in the future am going to make a point of finding a better subject for a close-up when I also have better diffuse lighting conditions.

By the end of the trip my plantar facitis pain on my right foot was worse, however after 3 days sitting in front of my computer was about the same as it was the day the road trip started that was what I hoped to get by with. My right knee has also had a loose cartilage problem over the last few years that has intermittently swollen up and did so during this same trip. I have been hoping it gradually dissolves versus having to have expensive arthroscopic knee surgery on. I have been doing these fall leaf trips for many years and already have considerable numbers of strong images, especially with large format 4x5 film, so it is rather difficult to improve with strong enough material that is better than what I have already captured. Overall the trip was less productive than my earlier Bishop Creek trip but am photographically satisfied enough given the one strong image, SE00918-01108-4x3vb. In any case, I much enjoy simply being out in the field experiencing these inspiring natural places with brilliant fall leaf color. Photography even when not particularly successful serves as a valuable vehicle in which to visually experience these places at deeper levels as one seeks the most beautiful.

SR120 Yosemite 10/26

Twelve days later, I was on the road again east on SR120 where I spent the night dispersed camping, sleeping in my Forester. Weather forecasts showed a one day window of light breezes with sunny skies. On the morning of Friday October 26, 2018, was checking on road side areas of SR120 in Yosemite. Early morning was not productive however by 10:30am PDT, the sun altitude was high enough to shine down over trees beside Siesta Lake that was the main objective of this short road trip.

The small shallow lake at 7955 feet is the first lake visitors driving east on state route 120 will see in the national park and many first time drivers indeed stop at the paved pullout with its plaque describing this natural feature. Most of summer its green world is a pleasant though unremarkable sight. There are many such shallow mid forest ponds in the Sierra Nevada with water grasses growing along edges and floating leaves of lily plants on its surfaces, however most are nameless, not given much interest when compared with our beautiful alpine timberline waters that often have backgrounds of impressive peaks. In early summer June, one will see many white flowers of Labrador tea shrubs that grow along many of its marshy shore edges. Many that walk about it's well pounded shore use trail will take a few photos and even Ansel Adams has a well known black and white image of the lake. But my interest was for a different reason that one may understand by searching for the lake on Google or Yahoo then opening their Image tabs. There one will see a few images with bright red and yellow shore vegetation.


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By mid fall, the green water grasses turn a fine mix with yellow and bog blueberry, vaccinium uliginosum, shrubs turn a bright red. The blueberry is common along shores and small streams and is widespread across our northern hemisphere. By early September one might also eat its small sweet blueberries. In the past, I'd drive by in the fall after working eastern Sierra aspen groves, but waters would always be wavy due to breezes. But this day the considerably much improved weather forecasts of this technological era proved accurate so I was able to work 3 subjects, with the first above, a modest view across the lake from the highway side showing the red and yellow stripe of vegetation on its opposite shoreline. Trees at the shoreline edge are lodgepole pines while a few other species like red and white firs stick up beyond.


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Next I rambled along the tortured use path to get close to the most colorful shore. It is difficult to get close to the edge due to the marshy edge and water grasses tend to grow out from the edge blocking open water for a reflection. However there was a flatish boulder just breaking the surface close enough that I could reach with a jump. Otherwise one might wade into the lake, however having done so at other such ponds, one can expect to sink deeply into mud and keeping so still as to not cause little waves is nearly impossible. A key reason to work the subject late morning is the sun was above left over trees of the far shore from this position providing back lighting to the translucent vegetation leaves, resulting in much more vibrant color. Mixed in with the top of the blueberry band are darker green leaves of Labrador tea. In the shallow rich waters are large numbers of invertebrates and micro organisms that during early summer include mosquitoes, a good reason to wait till fall to enjoy this intimate environment.


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I then worked this third image above, emphasizing the water grasses where a lone blueberry bush provided a nice red foreground.


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During mid day hours my camera remained in the bag while I explored some granite dome landscapes. By 2:30pm the low altitude sun at this time of fall was dipping behind tall trees over many road areas, so drove to the South Fork of the Tuolumne River crossing at 6800 feet where there is a bridge with a popular paved highway pullout and during earlier summer cascades over steep granite bedrock. By fall the river is just a small trickling flow through bedrock and large boulders in the river channel. If one bothers to climb down below the bridge, one will find numbers of fine intimate fall leaf subjects, especially red hued creek dogwood aka red osier dogwood, cornus sericea, mixed with yellow hued willow. I waited till sun shine through the dense pine forest was muted leaving blue skylight illumination to work the above subject against darkly lichen covered bedrock granite, providing a good background for the colorful leaves. There are 30 species of willow in our state and identifying an exact salix species is best left to experts.


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With breezes very light and intermittent, I gambled on using my 60mm lens for a similar subject large, 4 column panoramic image that was successful above. Note the long dried brown jeffrey pine needles that easily become trapped in vegetation branches. Besides lichen, dark moss also grew on these granite faces.


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Next I climbed down the river bed some to a large patch of creek dogwood, where at 4pm I shot the above close-up of leaves above a river bleached log. After their leaves change to a deep red, they slowly loose the red, transitioning through orange to yellow before dropping.


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Although there was much more for me to explore in the stream bed both above and below the highway, I will leave doing so for my following road trip. Instead I drove further west to the Hazel Green Creek drainage at 5500 feet where at 5:15pm worked the above Pacific dogwood, cornus nuttallii, right from the highway roadside. Fall leaf color of this dogwood species with larger leaves than c. sericea, has a wide range of intense color, often more purplish, that glow like Christmas tree ornaments in shadowed understories. Although the best illumination is with diffuse mid day thin cloud lighting, such weather is infrequently offered and instead the wise strategy is to be in these forests at early and late hours for blue sky lighting on days when breezes are minimal. Otherwise mixed sunlight is rather impossibly contrasty. On the enlarged vertical slice view, one will see the dogwood fruit of small green berries. This mottled leaf subject interestingly had a few still very green leaves where berries grew.


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My last subject at 5:45pm was the above modest image showing the wide range of colorful leaves that make wandering through Pacific dogwood forests such a wonder. I tried working a couple other subjects but the slight breeze resulted in impossible to post process movement. Instead I expect to return in a few days in early November given a calm enough day.

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2018 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

   David Senesac

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