Making Photographs: Milky Way Reflects at Lake Nicasio

This is the story of photographing the stars reflecting on the waters of Lake Nicasio.
Having seen a few magical photographs of the Milky Way reflecting on waters, I dreamt of making one of my own on the still waters at Lake Nicasio. Three essential conditions would be required: a moonless night, great atmospheric clarity, and most importantly, no wind–not even the slightest breeze. This was not to be an easy find, but finally, on the evening of October 20, 2016, the stars did align for me.

So it was, on this very still, clear and moonless night, I drove out to Nicasio to see if I could make my dream come true. I was kinda nervous as I parked the car in a pull-out across from the lake.  I was aware that visits to the lake’s shore at night were forbidden by ordinance. I had heard of a recent misadventure that happened to some friends who were photographing the rising moon at the lake. They were brusquely shooed away from their peaceful efforts by an armed fish and game warden. Fortunately, no fines were levied. So, I was wary as I looked both ways before crossing the road. I stealthily crouched down and slipped between the bushes to get to the water’s edge. I knew I was breaking the ordinance, but since I would cause no harm with my peaceful pursuit I felt justified. I kept low and walked the perimeter until I found just the right place.

The water on the lake mirrored the stars. Not a breath of wind, and the sky above and to the horizon were clear as a bell. For a moment, I paused to take it all in. I felt the power of the scene. What immense, unfathomable beauty I witnessed! Then, I set up my tripod for the 15-second exposures needed to record the stars, Milky Way, and their reflections.

Each time I made an exposure, I cupped my hands to block the light emanating from the back of the camera. On this dark, moonless night my screen would look like a beacon and betray my presence there. After about a dozen exposures, I packed my camera away and began the short trek back to roadside. All had gone well, without incident. As I walked back toward the car I felt confident that I had gotten the photograph that I had dreamed of.

Milky Way Reflections at Lake Nicasio also appears in my book, Sky Walks.
Visit my website to order either prints or the book.






McClures Beach: A Photographer’s Ode

Ever since I first saw the raw, primal beauty of McClures Beach I’ve returned countless times with my camera. I’m never disappointed. Sometimes I’ve been fortunate to have captured the raw, relentless power of the Pacific Ocean. At other times I recorded scenes of peaceful timelessness there. For more than thirty years I have photographed the varying moods of my favorite Point Reyes beach.

When I first stepped down from the steep trail that leads to the beach, my eye was drawn to the iconic rocky point several hundred yards to the south. These rocks distinguish the main beach at McClures. I walk toward the point every time I visit there. because I know what lies beyond that rocky dark wall. Ebb Tide, above, was photographed in February, 2003. The Point is seen in the distance.

My first visit to McClures Beach was during the aftermath of a winter storm in 1974. Taken there by a friend, she revealed to me the narrow passageway through the point that leads from the main beach to the “Hidden Beach.”  Two magnificent sea stacks are seen from a steep and narrow crescent beach. I have entitled the cleft in the rocky point The Gateway, shown below. 

The Gateway, McClures Beach – September, 1989

The wind during that first visit to the Hidden Beach was furious, visceral–memorable, as I watched waves crashing, exploding against the rocks. No photos on that day, but what I saw was etched indelibly in my memory. I returned several times over the years when the wind howled, to make photographs that celebrate the power of the sea there. Following are a couple of photographs that capture the awesome force of the sea in the aftermath of winter storms.

Winter Surf, McClures Beach – March, 1991

After the Storm, McClures Beach – February, 1994

I went to the hidden beach through the Gateway at other, more peaceful times.  The photograph, Monolith, graces the jacket cover of my book, Point Reyes 20 Years. It was made during a winter afternoon when a minus tide made it possible to walk behind the squarish sea stack.

Monolith, McClures Beach – January, 1992

Another time, on a calm, clear night in October 2016, I went to the hidden beach to photograph the Milky Way. The following two photographs show the results. The first one shows the two sea stacks with our galaxy overhead. The second image was made before I departed through the rocky point back to the main beach. The multitude of stars seen that night, combined with the peacefulness of the beach was unforgettable.

Monolith, Elephant Rock and Milky Way – October 2016


Galaxy at McClures Point: 10/19/2016

There were times that my photo visits to the hidden beach at McClures seemed to be futile due to poor light or weather conditions. During those times I have learned to be patient. In September of 1995 Jean and I walked down to the second beach where the sea stacks are. The light was fading and the view wasn’t particularly photogenic. After pacing around for a while I told Jean I was through and thanked her for her patience. After we passed through the gateway and were about 50 yards beyond the point, I turned back for one last look at where we came from. What a gift, the light from the setting sun burnished the wet sands in front of the rocky point. September Sunset, McClures Beach!

September Sunset, McClures Beach September 1995

Another time after a seemingly uneventful visit to my favorite beach, I was surprised again. I had packed up my camera and was nearly off the beach when I turned for one last look from the uphill trail. Then and there, I saw the last rays of the sun turn the creek into a silver ribbon of light.  Winter Creek reminds me to always pause and look again before leaving a location.

Winter Creek, McClures Beach – February 2003



Portals: Windows of Light

Portals on a wooded trail invite us to dream of what lies beyond….
Walking the Green Bridge Trail in Point Reyes has been a revelation. There I practiced letting the photograph come to me. I discovered a multitude of surprising views and vistas by slowing down and looking deeply. Although I do not meditate in the formal manner, my photo walks are a form of deep contemplation. Today’s post reveals some of the windows of light I found along this trail.

See the complete Portals Collection here.

The Green Bridge Trail
For twelve years Jean and I have lived across the street from the Green Bridge Trail, a county preserve in Point Reyes Station. This park is intimate but features ever-changing vistas there. I have been surprised by the dramatic portals I’ve discovered during many walks there. I’ve explored the views during all seasons, at all times of the day. In places, the path detours to creekside views. In spring views of Lagunitas Creek are framed with the radiant life of newly-born foliage.

The Early Trail Views Preserved
When I first walked it, the trail was pleasantly overgrown. This created a feeling of being in a wild, natural sanctuary. These earliest views are presented in my book, One Place Deeply. Lately, though, the simple trails have been obliterated. Wide avenues have been brush-cut through the once narrow path. I feel fortunate to have seen and photographed the earlier, more natural views. The best ones are presented for you in a new online collection, Portals.

At certain times I was surprised to find a portal framing a view beyond. These “windows of light” were delightful and drew me in to photograph them. On some days my customary walk of 20 minutes would stretch into an hour. I photographed the inviting views before moving ahead on the trail. Although I knew what was beyond these openings, it was fun imagining I was about to enter a new and surprising world!

A Chance Encounter
I rarely saw anyone else on my early morning walks. But one time as I composed an image with my camera, a neighbor walked right into my scene! We were both surprised. She asked if I wanted her to back out of my photograph to avoid “spoiling” it.  I thought not. She and her dog added a serendipitous human touch to my work.