To me, schools in the summer are one third peaceful, one third harmless, and one third sad.
After all those years, the sight of a school in June still whispers “September” and I frown a little bit.
Even a school that has no relationship to my past, and that is six thousand miles away from where I grew up, such as the Malaga Cove school in Palos Verdes Estate.
I have a bit of a difficult relationship with schools. I have a PhD, I have a strong drive towards teaching. One of my favorite things over the past year was when school-buses got back in service and I saw kids going back to school. At the same time, I was the not-so-popular, high-achieving, often lonely and sometimes bullied kid from elementary school till halfway through high-school. Every time I see a school, old Tom and young Tom kind of clash: aspirations, ideals, and memories forming an interesting cocktail ranging over a curious mix of emotions.
But I think it’s nice to put all of this into photographs.
It’s been a long day. I finally gave in and ordered postcards (I spent the whole afternoon editing them). I got a new Aputure light with a Fresnel lens, I’ll use it tomorrow and I haven’t even got it out of the box yet. I framed the first print of Coyote for some friends of mine, as a housewarming gift.
This is Coyote, short for Can’t catch me, Coyote. It’s one of my favorite photographs. I shot it while driving a van from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim. Those on the left are the Vermillion Cliffs.
But I digress: I do all this, and my right eye is acting weird. I was preparing to enjoy a nice dinner (some chili that my neighbor cooked a few days ago) with some French wine (La Vieille Ferme red, harvest of 2019, one of my favorites), when I look out. And I see something grand is happening out west. It’s been cloudy all day, but the day had a happy ending for all of us light-chasers.
My best bet was to grab my drone and fire it up asap. Scramble! Scramble!
First, it looked like this.
And like this:
I was happy, I got back inside. Ate dinner, drank some wine. Then my eye starts acting weird again and I look away from the screen to give it some rest. And there’s the Sun, showing up just five minutes before the curtains fall on today.
And then it went like this and my heart melted a little bit and I landed. Happy.
The first rule about the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is that you always say all of its name. You can write it as Anza-Borrego Desert SP. Maybe I will do so. But I really like it so much that I feel like speaking out its full name whenever I am telling someone about it.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of my favorite places in the entire world. I discovered it in January, five months ago, and I’ve been back four times since then. You can see me as an Anza-Borrego Desert State Parkevangelist. I like to share what I love, and I share with insistence what I love with passion.
I think I first found out about it on Instagram. As you know, I am a fan of everything Western, primarily landscapes, and a strange place started popping up on my feed. The barren, crevassed hills and lush palm groves growing in its canyons called me with growing insistence. Feeling a bit like Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss’ character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), I started talking to my friends about the attraction I was beginning to feel. “Do you know about Anza-Borrego Desert State Park? Have you been there? Do you want to go someday?”
It didn’t resonate with anyone. I would not give up. Emboldened by the typical New Year’s resolution to do more of what makes me happy, I made up my mind to go on a solo trip and discover Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. On January the 5th, 2021, at 0600 hours, I left our home in Redondo Beach and headed out to meet the rising Sun.
The weather was extremely unpromising until I reached Temecula, but the clouds and the fog cleared when I got on the 79-E. Let me start by saying this: the road to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is good till the last mile. As soon as you leave the freeway behind and enter Temecula’s wine county, you start wondering if you just teleported back into the California of Steinbeck and Kerouac. The vineyards lead you to the rolling hills surrounding Holcomb Village, and then the roads open into the dry prairies around Warner Springs. You get to cross the Pacific Crest Trail three times, the first two shortly after the airfield lined with dozens of white gliders, and then again after you make a left onto San Felipe Road and climb onto Montezuma Valley.
The S-22 climbs, and your excitation climbs just as much. Not just the first time. Every time you are about to enter the Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
The engine of my faithful Mustang hummed a little louder as it pushed through the last few hundred yards. It paused, rode flat for what seemed a very short laps of time, and then pointed its nose downwards, gliding down the roads in the final descent to a newfound land of wonders.
This is how Anza-Borrego Desert State Park first reveals itself to you.
And this is what you get, a few switchbacks further down the road.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which happens to be the nation’s largest state park, is not a jewel. It is a treasure chest filled with countless gems and exquisite golds. The Palm groves in the canyons are home to the only palm tree that is endemic to California (most of our palm trees where brought to California through Mexico by the Spanish settlers).
I love those palm groves, but I also love each and every plant that proves its relevance in the desert, day after day. Also the trees that owe their presence to man are special there. Go wander north-east of Borrego Springs, and your hike will smell like grapefruit flowers. The breeze blows their scent to you from the orchards surrounding the town.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is also magical where there are no plants. In the badlands where virtually nothing grows, in the narrow canyons where it’s even hard to spy a spider or a bug.
When dusk falls upon the desert in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, it’s as if you emptied a chest of all of its treasure, only to find a fake bottom, that you remove to discover more treasure.
How comes? Because Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is also a Dark Sky Retreat, and on a moonless night I saw more starts than I’have ever seen anywhere else in the world.
And if the Moon is there and scares away the stars, well, she will come to say bye on the morning that you leave, and make sure you come back soon.
I have not been in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park since early March. It’s a little too long, because the desert is my happy place, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the happy place of my happy places.
Have you ever been to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park? Do you want to go now? I do.
Last week I passed the FAA exam to be a commercial drone pilot. I can’t wait to receive my badge. The theory you get tested on is interesting. As this great video study-guide tells you, at least 75% of what you have to learn is not directly relevant to you flying a drone, but the FAA wants you to “appreciate the complexity of flying.” And you sure do learn a lot of fun facts: one thing that really blew my mind was to discover that the numbers of the runways are not randomly assigned, but correspond to their approximate orientation with respect to the true North: Runway 18, for instance, is oriented 180º, so it heads South. Crazy, right? Runway 22 is headed Southwest, and so on and so forth.
Anyway, as it often happens with this kind of things, over the past month I spent much time studying and basically no time flying, so today I rewarded my self with a nice flight over Buff Cove.
As much as the drone is a fantastic flying photo camera, it would be a pity not to explore its video capability as well, so I recorded and produced a two-minute flight over the cove. Whenever I take this kind of video, I am positively amazed. Not at my own work, but at how easy it is to record this kind of video now: just fifteen years ago, I guess that a helicopter would have been the only means of capturing the footage I recorded today.
If you like my videos, don’t forget to like and subscribe to my YouTube channel! There’s only a handful of videos right now, but I plan to grow my collection fast, so stay tuned!
We went to Crystal Cove, OC this morning. It was somewhat overcast. As you know, I’m all about colors. When it’s overcast, and colors don’t shine as bright, then I play with black and white.
The light and the textures looked great in black and white as I was shooting. Once at home, I kept processing in black and white. It was lovely. Then I started trying out different colors, and I loved them too.
I loved how each processing gave our a different vibe. Each photograph played according to a different harmony.
The story each photograph tells is so unique that I cannot pick one and say “you are the one”.
I hope this gives a little insight into my editing processes. To me, editing is not different from cooking. It’s like preparing a salsa for the pasta. Different ingredients will call for different spices, and different spices will be suitable for different occasions.
Filters, you say? I don’t know. Call a rose by a different name, and it will smell just as nice. I don’t like the notion of filter because it’s often used in a diminutive way. Filters are usually a handful of one-size-fits-all presents you slap on an image.
Editing is more about the careful and loving fine-tuning of dozens of parameters, colors, shadows, textures, brilliances, emotions. I have my recipes, that are never twice the same, and that I like to think I improve with every photograph I produce.
I got a new bike last week. I have a love-hate relationship with bicycles. I’ve bought bicycles all my life. Sometimes on a whim, sometimes after careful research. Some of my bikes were stolen. Some were traded. Some were left behind.
**Here begins the story of me and my bikes, if you do not care feel free to skip forward**
More than a decade ago, I went to a sporting goods store (Decathlon) in Turin, Italy. I needed to get a bike fixed. While I was there, I tried an entry-level road bike. It was bright red. You know, Ferrari red. You cannot let an Italian try a fast red bike and imagine he will react neutrally. I bought it. A few months and some bad falls later, I realized that drop bars do not offer the maneuverability you need to handle the busy and unevenly-paved roads of European cities. So I hated that bike and stored it at my parents home.
Fast forward, in 2015 I moved to Paris. After a few more unlucky attempts at purchasing a bike there, I went back to Italy, had the drop bars on my road bike replaced with flat bars, and that bike became my pride and joy, especially after Anne-Claire gifted me a beautiful Brooks saddle decorated with a Thunderbird design. Over three years, I rode several hundred miles around Paris with that bike. I also had a major fall once, after which I dragged myself to a pharmacy to get my bruises sanitized. The pharmacist, an elderly lady, prompted me to drop my trousers so I could put some disinfectant on my thigh. I asked her if there was a backroom where I could do that in case another client came in, but she said no and insisted that I just go ahead. Which I did. Ah, la France.
Fast forward again to 2018. We moved to California. My bicycle-purchase journey started once again, with a couple of failed attempts (much more costlier than in Europe because, on average, everything bike-related seems to be 30% to 50% more expensive in the US than in Europe).
Over the last couple of weeks, there I was, in the good company of at least half a million Americans: I wanted a new bike, one that would match my specs, my budget, that I could try, maybe have a little bit of a choice, and most of all I wanted it now. Anyone who tried purchasing a bike right now knows that everything is out of stock, with several months of backlogs, half a year-long wait lists, and most of what bike stores have are either high end models or entry level clunkers. And everything in small sizes.
But I lucked out! I went to Safety Cycle in Torrance and they had the kind of bike I wanted. I got myself a Specialized Sirrus X 4.0. I would have preferred a carbon frame, but I realized that on top of not being available, it was only two pounds lighter and almost a grand more expensive. I also wanted thinner tires, but those are easy to replace and I had also been toying with the idea of getting a mountain bike and now I cannot wait to get these gently-gripped tires on some easy trails such as Westridge and Sullivan, maybe all the way to Nike Station.
**If you skipped earlier, you can resume reading here**
The reason why I am really excited about this bike, on top of the ordinary perks of biking (less fuel and pollution on local trips, no parking hassle, workouts, mood), is that it biking really pairs well with photography. Just think of the Palos Verdes Peninsula: many amazing vistas from Palos Verdes Boulevard do not have easy or legal parking. With your bike, it’s a no-brainer. Pull over, shoot, ride.
I rode my bike to Malaga Cove two days ago, just to test its climbing capabilities with a heavy-set rider. 100% approved. These are the first two photos I took from a bike outing, so they are a little special to me.
Today it’s Friday. On Friday mornings, Anne-Claire and I always have breakfast at Eat at Joe’s. I think their breakfast burritos are just unmatched (but I also know it’s a matter of very personal taste so if you prefer Phanny’s we’re still cool). So today I decided I was going to bike there. It reduced the guilt, and prompted me to to take a little detour on my way home.
When rosy-fingered dawn appeared, I was at the Redondo Beach harbor.
I’ve often visited the beach in the very early morning, but never the harbor. By car, it’s a bit of a hassle. You have to park, pay, walk to what you want to see, walk back. As a biking detour, the scenery just gave itself to me.
There was a softness, a tranquillity that I had never seen there. I actually reminded me of my bike rides in Paris when I was going to teach in the early morning and businesses were not open yet, so once you left the most trafficked roads you would fine yourself surrounded by an unreal quiet.
The emptiness and the silence also inspired me to try some unexplored perspectives. It’s funny how, when you visit a familiar place at an unfamiliar time of the day, it feels like a new discovery.
I’ve been toying with this idea for a while. To take a drone shot of the magnificent sunset in Redondo Beach.
It is intimidating. Flying your drone is always intimidating. I like to say that every flight feels like your second flight.
At the same time, I’ve been studying hard to get my Part 107 commercial drone pilot license, and that’s where Francis Bacon’s famous motto comes into play: Scientia Potentia Est, “knowledge is power”. Knowledge lets you do more, better, and with more confidence.
There’s a bit of a paradox surrounding drones: everyone loves drone photography and footage, but many people dislike seeing drones flying around. There is a lot of negative bias around drones. One day I will elaborate on this, but I think that half of the issue is purely evolutionary: the fact that drones sound, look, and fly like big insects, and the whole thing of being seen by something we don’t see elicits our primordial scare of predators. On top of this, a few people have been using their drones in illegal, annoying, reckless, or simply stupid ways. Sadly, it takes a few morons to taint the reputation of a whole sector.
I hope I can do my part and show how drones are tools of beauty that give us unprecedented views on everyday vistas.
Without further ado, here’s what I did yesterday.
✅ Request LAANC authorization from Torrance Airport (funny enough, my home is on the demarcation of the 100ft and 400 ft clearance areas of the Zamperini Airfield airspace. If I take off from the back alley, my allowed ceiling is 100ft, on the front Avenue, the ceiling is 400ft).
✅ No people, kids, and pets close to the take-off and landing area.
✅ No hawks or ravens flying nearby.
✅ Good weather, low wind.
Here’s what happened:
This was not a real “flight”, more of an elevator kind of thing. I flew up, stayed there a few minutes, flew down. Here’s what Redondo looked like from up there.
I did also take a 180º panoramic shot, right into the sunset, stretching from Palos Verdes to the Redondo Pier.
Kind of magic, huh?
Now that I found this safe and beautiful spot, I cannot wait to see what this looks like at other times of day. What I am really looking forward to is to capture the marine layer blowing in from the ocean. That will be some eye candy.
Make sure to follow my Instagram for more updates on my photography!
Whenever I take photographs of certain waves, I think I get possessed by the same demon as Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849), the Japanese artist who authored iconic print such as The Great Wave off Kanagawa. In case you were still not sure, this post is about waves.
Last Sunday, I was at La Jolla Beach, in Malibu, shortly after dawn. To tell the truth, I was there at 7 AM which is way past dawn. Anne-Claire was running there with her trail running club. Although I sometimes try to hurry my sedentary body up and down the trails surrounding Los Angeles with uneven results (mostly poor), I am really grateful to her hobby because it makes us be into the wild in the very early morning. We are morning people, we go to bed at 9 and wake up at 5. Sleeping nine to five, what a way to make a living, right? If you see a photo of mine shot at night, it’s likelier to be early morning than late night.
We left Redondo at a quarter to six, because the Ray Miller trailhead (the end of the Backbone Trail that crosses the Santa Monica Mountains) is one of the furthest from us: it takes more than an hour to get there if there’s no traffic. As soon as we drove past Malibu I started feeling gusts of wind tugging at the car. That was a little disheartening. I like comfort. I like mild temperatures, gentle breezes, pastel lighting. I am also aware that no guts no glory, that the faint heart never won the fair lady, and so on and so forth. We got to the trailhead, parked the Mustang on PCH because the gates of the parking area open at eight (that is so late). Anne-Claire went running, I bundled up in my winter jacket, pulled the hoodie up, and hesitantly headed to the beach. The beach was very happy to see me and started sandblasting my bare calves con gusto as soon as I approached the shore. Little did I know that the wind was just excited and wanted to hurry me to an unspeakable marvel.
The beach was empty, a fisherman and I were the only spectators to the display of wonder that every wave would perform. They were not solo dance acts: each wave would find a partner in the wind that was rushing down to meet them from the Santa Monica Mountains. Splash splash woosh woosh.
Each wave seemed under a different spell, each crest a bejeweled crown of fractal delights. I must have spent at least half an hour just collecting waves.
You know how these things work: you think you hit the ceiling of beauty, and a new wonder unfolds before your eyes. The Sun must have head about the waltz that the wind and the waves were dancing, and decided he wanted to come and have a peek.
A peek was all the Sun needed to decide he wanted to join the dance too. And that’s when the wonder stepped up to the very next level. The crests were not anymore the the foamy fins of giant fishes, but they became like golden flares, exploding from the surface to dissolve soon after back into the Ocean.
What was happening on the beach was not less delightful: I just had to pick the scale, the distance where my eyes and lens would wander, and I was in a little heaven of water, salt, sand, rocks, and sunshine.
My original plan was to remain on the beach for a few hours, but you know, the spectacle of beauty changes hearts, and it made mine stronger. I moved the car inside the parking area, grabbed my hiking pole and started walking up the trail. Twice the wind wailed and blew dust in my overly sensitive and delicate blue eyes, and twice I turned back, walked a few steps towards the parking, stopped, sighed, and started walking up again. I must have hiked a couple miles, till the where the Backbone trail bifurcates into the Overlook trail.
This astonishingly Mediterranean trail winds and turns and keeps you marveling at how much this looks like Greece, until you get to a plateau from which you spy a view that is not Mediterranean at all, quite the opposite: to the East, the Boney Mountain Ridge elevates in all of its humbling majesty. It is a legitimate Western vista that situates you where you actually are. It reminds you that you are in California. You are at the much-sought prize of a Westward movement that unravelled through this Country for more than two centuries, shaping it at the very same time. You are standing at the end of the trail.
I actually jogged my way down because I was really hungry and lunchtime was approaching. Little bonus, on the way home we pulled over at one of the viewpoints of Malibu. It does not matter what you think about actually visiting Malibu, when you see it from up there, you can’t deny that God must have been in a jolly good mood on the day he made Malibu. I say it every time and it never gets old.