To non-natives, California is endless beaches and soaring mountains. But to most of us born and raised in the Golden State, nothing says home like the gentle, oak-studded hills encircling the Central Valley, the true heart of our state. Rarely spectacular but always beautiful, I recharge simply by navigating their gentle undulations, camera or not.
Year-round these colorful hillsides form the perfect canvas for our majestic oaks. In winter and spring they're so green it almost hurts my eyes. By March the wildflowers appear, led by waves of poppies that can paint entire slopes in gold and yellow. Summer's tenacious sun burns the wild grasses a dusty gold, the perfect complement to the relentless blue sky that persists all the way into fall. Overseeing these seasonal changes are the proud oaks, each one seeming to have staked out its own territory, spreading its strong, meandering limbs with the confidence of a preening peacock.
I'm forever on the lookout for particularly photogenic oaks to photograph against the sunset sky. When I find one, or perhaps a group of two or three, I make a point of visiting when I can accent the scene with a crescent moon. The trees in today's image have been on my radar for a while, and have in fact been the subject of earlier images (they were on the cover of "Sierra Heritage" magazine a few years ago). But since I'd never photographed them with a moon, I circled last Tuesday, when a 5% waxing crescent would be ideally positioned in the sunset sky.
The day arrived cloudy, with a light rain, and I consider bailing. But when the afternoon weather report promised improving conditions, I decided to give it a shot. I arrived here about 45 minutes before sunset and could see already the sky to the west had started to clear (chalk one up for the weatherman). While waiting for the moon I photographed a nice sunset, then held my breath as fast moving bands of clouds intermittently obscured the darkening sky. When the sun left the moon teased me, peeking only occasionally through narrow gaps, and I moved quickly to beat the rushing clouds that closed as quickly as they opened. Usually I had time for no more than a half dozen frames before the moon disappeared. Each time that happened I took the opportunity to position the crescent a little differently relative to the trees by shifting to a different vantage point. I exposed for silhouettes that emphasize the trees' outline against the rich, red twilight. Soon stars began popping out but I didn't stop until the moon disappeared for good behind a more permanent cloud bank.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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