The Moon and Venus Glowed Brightly

The Moon and Venus glowed brightly and the frogs were so loud that when I look at this photograph I still hear them….

My friends, Hadley and Marty B. stood with me on the shore of this hidden cove at Lake Nicasio, all of us struck silent by the startling beauty of the moon and venus in the darkening sky. As we set up our cameras, the silence broke. Two bullfrogs began croaking in joyous guttural conversation, first one to our left, then a reply came from our right. Back and forth they sang! It seemed that they acknowledged and accepted our peaceful presence. The sky so deep, so dark, so quiet. The frogs so deliriously happy…. we too. All of us delighted in the evening’s magic moment.

We had come to Lake Nicasio to see if we could find darkened skies suitable for photographing the stars.  Hoping for stars above and their reflections on still waters, this late February date provided us with both. It was clear, very, very cold… and not a breath of wind to stir the surface of the lake.  At first, I resisted including the brightly-glowing, new moon in my composition. I knew that the long time exposure would blur it’s shape. However, I soon decided to try.

I’m pleased by the effect of the diffused but brilliant light these heavenly orbs express in the night sky photograph. The long exposure reveals more of the millions of stars that are above us. This new photograph,  The Moon and Venus, Lake Nicasio has been added to the online catalog.


Stars Above, Stars Below

Details: Cypress and Stars (above), Teasel and Stars (below)

Photography Highlights from 2016

2016 Photo Review Gallery Here
My 2016 photography year began during morning walks, when I explored dewdrops, sparkling in the first sunlight on newly-leafing plants & gossamer webs near my home. As the year ended, I stood, under the dark skies above Point Reyes, looking up in quiet wonder. I trained my camera at the billions of stars glowing in galactic space. When I recently reviewed this last year’s work, I was struck by the thread that connects these vast distances and magnitudes of scale. The thread, of course, is the light, itself. How irresistably seductive this light is to me, whether it glows in micro-bursts from the small world below my fingertips or sparkles, fiery from the multitudes of stars in the vast, unfathomable reaches of space. This light is what I have been photographing all these years.

I began the year, in January, with a new little camera, a Sony RX 100m3. I put this versatile and capable tool in my pocket, so I would have it with me as I walked near my home. New worlds drew me in because I walked with a camera. I began looking more closely on my morning walks. Soon, frost crystals on teasels, shining bubbles on new-sprung puddles and sparkling dewdrops on webs came into view. A forest of teasels only a hundred yards from my home became a favorite stopping point. I marveled at their intricate structure, even more so when they were covered with frost or dew-festooned webs.

I’ve always enjoyed the surprises I found by taking a closer look at the “small world.” The little camera whetted my appetite for close-up work, and I invested in a fine Zeiss 90mmf/2.8 macro lens for my Sony A7R.  I used it some on the cactus flowers during a visit to Joshua Tree in April. When I returned home, the spring warmth had opened a riot of roses in our front yard, so I trained the new lens on the dew-speckled roses near my front steps.

While in Joshua Tree another seed got planted. The clear night sky kept me up late studying the heavens above the desert. I made my first serious explorations of the night sky to record the magnificence of our Milky Way.  When I returned home to Point Reyes, I began watching the night sky, hopeful of an opportunity to photograph the stars here.  I watched above throughout this last summer, waiting for a time the moon was dark and the fog had left our coast. I watched and waited – and then, on a startlingly warm and clear night at the end of September, the right moment came! I went to Drakes Bay and was stunned to see the galactic core of the Milky Way setting adjacent to a favorite cliff.

That remarkable night, when the night sky at Point Reyes first opened for me, I became excited – there was no turning back.  For the next two months I ventured to my favorite beaches and made a number of starry sky photographs.  Most of them can be seen in my online gallery collection:  In early December, another new lens entered my life. The Zeiss Batis 2.8/18 is highly corrected for use in night photography. I took it out for a spin before 2016 ended.  In late December I finished my photography for the year with a night visit to Pierce Point Ranch on the northernmost reaches of the Point Reyes Peninsula. The next evening I visited Sky Trail on the flanks of Mt. Wittenberg. I’ve added these new photographs to the Night Sky Collection.

Finding Point Reyes Again – The Night Sky

After more than thirty years of photographing the magnificent landscape of Point Reyes, I had lately become less interested in her charms. So, I began exploring other vistas… dewdrops on flowers, light spilling through barn wall cracks, bubbles in glass… you name it. All this is well and good, but the Point Reyes landscape had stopped appearing in the viewfinder of my camera. So, what happened this autumn is the story of how I found Point Reyes again. But, first, to find Point Reyes again, I had to leave it.

Although the story has very deep roots going back to childhood and my fascination with the mystery of the stars above, I will skip those memories for now to tell you about my more recent exploration of the heavens.

It began on a recent photo trip I made with friends to the Alabama Hills in the Eastern Sierra. My friend, Hadley Johnson, had learned the secrets of how to photograph the Milky Way. One night he coached us at a rock formation known as Boot Arch. There I made my first photograph of the Milky Way as it streamed skywards adjacent to the arch. Fascinated by the unfathomable beauty of the cosmos, this first photograph kindled my creative spirit.

Boot Arch & the Milky Way

So, this spring, I returned to the desert at Joshua Tree National Monument. There I made a second photograph of the Milky Way with Joshua Trees anchoring the vault of the heavens. Making this photograph of a starry night sky, in connection with a beloved landscape enlivened me. When I returned to Point Reyes I knew I was hooked. I wondered… what about Point Reyes under a starry sky?

Milky Way 32, Joshua Tree

The Milky Way at Joshua Tree

I dreamt of making a new series of landscapes that included my favorite Point Reyes locations under a starry sky. Each dark moon cycle would provide an opportunity. On some nights as my wife and I relaxed in our outdoor tub, the stars shone brightly above. On several occasions, I drove over the ridge at 2 am only to discover the heavens were occluded by a thick blanket of fog, so my dreams were stymied repeatedly by this pervasive coastal fog.

But, in late September, an unusually warm weather front visited our coast. The temperature rose to the mid-nineties, and the coastal fog went away. It came at a perfect time during the new moon cycle when the sky would be darkest, and the stars would shine their brightest! This could be the night….

I was hopeful as I drove at sunset to Drakes Beach. Not a soul was on the beach, and as I wandered slowly south, the sky gradually darkened. Then, I saw the band of light, our Milky Way, glowing overhead. Time seemed suspended in the silent darkness. I wandered along the beach, trying different compositions, but could not find one that pleased me. I decided to wrap things up. As I headed back to my car, I noticed the Milky Way streaming heavenward next to one of the iconic Drakes Beach cliffs. This scene stopped me in my tracks. As I composed my image, it struck me I was photographing the very bluff on which I’d stood 26 years earlier while making my photograph, Drakes Moonrise!

Starry Night at Drakes Beach

The posting of this first new photograph, Starry Night, Drakes Beach, and the story I wrote about it created an unprecedented positive reaction at my website. I continued my photography of Point Reyes, but now, under the stars. Over the next two months I re-visited and photographed the night sky at many of my favorite Point Reyes landscapes. I had found Point Reyes again!

The Night Sky exhibit at my gallery, through January 16th, features the photographs I made at Point Reyes this autumn. The Marty Knapp Photo Gallery is open Friday, Saturday or Sunday between 11-5. The Night Sky Collection is the online version and includes secure ordering access. A boxed set of  notecards, Starry Nights has just been released and is available at both the gallery and online.