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A tailor-made photo workshop in the Eastern Sierras netted super-blooms, Death Valley dunes at dawn and the Milky Way over Trona Pinnacles’ alien landscape…

We certainly live in strange times. I’ve just seen a small town in Southern California brought to a grinding halt by wildflowers, well it was actually over 50,000 thousand selfie stick wielding tourists that descended upon the area to see the super bloom that brought the chaos. That’s the power of social media. With a population of only 66,000, Lake Elsinore is just off Interstate 15 and the hills on the other side of the motorway are covered this year with orange, yellow and purple flowers after one of the heaviest winter rainfalls in years ending a five year drought. When I photographed this area two years ago I thought it was good then, but this is well off the scale. It’s so intense that it can be seen from space. Before only the canyons were covered in carpets of mainly California poppies, but as you approach by motorway, you can see splashes of orange and yellow flowers on all the hills. During the weekend, travellers passing through to San Diego or Los Angeles found themselves parked on the motorway as traffic stopped to look at the flowers. 

I spent 6 weeks in California to capture the ‘super bloom’ and to lead a private workshop in the Eastern Sierras. When I lived in Los Angeles in the 80’s, I would often drive up to the Owens Valley in the Sierras, so I was looking forward to showing the group around my backyard. Our first stop was Antelope Valley to photograph the California poppies. The crowds here were no where like Lake Elsinore and I knew an area that hardly anyone goes to so as you can see from our group shot, we had the place virtually to ourselves. Unfortunately, Antelope Valley is know for its wind, which makes it more difficult to photograph the flowers if they are being blown about. We even tried another attempt at the end of the trip but the wind hampered our efforts yet again, though we still managed to come away with images that showed the expansiveness of the flowers instead of close details. 

Photographers Capturing Milky Way over Trona Pinnacles, Trona, California, USA

I planned the trip to coincide with a New Moon so we could photograph the Milky Way over the Trona Pinnacles. This is a location that is the back of beyond where many science fiction films have been made such as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Planet of the Apes. The closest place to stay was nearly an hour away so as we were going out at 3am there wasn’t much time to sleep after we had dinner. Now, in the Eastern Sierras there are mostly small desert towns that are not particularly know for fine cuisine. I did discover that I should never eat fizzy potato salad ever again as I ended up getting food poisoning and it felt like a scene from Alien with something trying to escape my body! Thanks to Monika Lorenz and Mike Blanchette for doing the driving while I was out of commission. At least I was able to make some great images of the Milky Way with some of our group that looked like the aliens had landed. 

Sunrise over the Sierra Nevadas, Owens Valley, California, USA

As we drove further up the Owens Valley into the higher elevations, the snowfall on the mountains this year was incredible. We went out one morning to capture the first light on the mountains at Convict Lake, but I made an executive decision not to go there when we saw the amazing clouds formations beginning to light up. Instead we pulled off the highway into the desert for one of the best sunrise experiences during the entire trip. It was hard to capture everything that was happening all around us so I made a panoramic to show the clouds angling towards the snow-covered mountains, but there was so much more of the colourful clouds that I had to make various images. I love it when this happens where you go out with one intention and come back with something completely different and much better. 

Man on Mesquite Dunes at Sunrise, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

The Mesquite sand dunes in Death Valley have always been a favourite place for me. We hiked in before sunrise to find a clean dune without footprints, but this was difficult. We could have used some of those winds from Antelope Valley to blow away the footprints. A couple of us got a morning workout by hiking in to find this beautiful ridge of a dune leading towards the sunrise. As dawn neared, clouds rose up from behind the sand dune. I suggested that the scene would benefit from a person standing on top of the dune so Mike Blanchette kindly obliged while I fired off his camera. Now that’s my kind of selfie.  All in all, it was a fantastic trip despite the food poisoning. 

If you would like to see what the super bloom was like in Southern California, have a look at my video on our YouTube channel Landscape Photography iQ. I can arrange tailor-made trips, usually in the UK but abroad if there is a large enough group interested. Contact me to show your interest.



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