A few summers ago, I took an excursion to one of my favorite locations in California: the spectacular Eastern Sierras. Driving along Highway 395 in any direction leads to a plethora of photographic opportunities, including famous locations such as Death Valley, the Alabama Hills, Manzanar, the Owens Valley near Bishop, the Bristlecone Pine Forest, Mammoth Lakes, Mono Lake, and the old ghost mining town of Bodie, to name just a few. Just south of Bishop lies the Owens Valley Radio Observatory, which is operated by Caltech, the academic home of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a wonderful place to photograph in the evening hours.
The cloud formations that evening were incredible, due in part to the massive wildfires that were burning in Santa Barbara that summer. The sunset was just gorgeous. There are many of these radio dishes scattered around the observatory, which make for fantastic photographs, especially at night. These images were taken just after sunset and are bracketed HDR sequences. They were processed in Photomatix 4, Lightroom 3, Photoshop CS5, and with onOne’s PhotoTools 2.6.
These images were taken during an outing of the San Luis Obispo Camera Club, a photography group based on the California Central Coast. The location is a special place called Chapel Hill in Shandon, California, about 15 miles east of Paso Robles off Highway 46 East, just off McMillan Canyon Road.
Perched high upon a vineyard-studded hill, this exquisite chapel was built by famous Shandon resident (Judge) William P. Clark, Jr., former Deputy Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and United States Secretary of the Interior, who worked under former President Ronald Reagan, his close friend and confidant. Chapel Hill has spectacular views and is located amongst the hills of Clark’s massive ranch. Shandon is a small agricultural town with many vineyards, like its Paso Robles counterpart. Anyone can make the journey up the hill from the parking lot. The gate is usually open during daylight hours. The chapel was built by Clark and his late wife Joan so locals could have a place to worship. The chapel is available for private ceremonies and, upon occasion, concerts and special events are held at the church.
Getting to the top of Chapel Hill is another matter, however, with a very steep climb of around 500 feet, I estimate. The incredible views from the top are well worth the climb with your camera equipment. There are beautiful grapevines along the path to the top. I estimate the top shot represents less than a quarter of the total climb up. Our Camera Club group arrived at the golden hour late in the afternoon and photographed in and around the chapel. As a storm was rolling in, we stayed till after dusk trying to catch the wonderful lightning bolts piercing the moody, roiling clouds. It was a fun outing with the gang.
The first image at the top is an HDR bracketed sequence processed in Photomatix Pro 4, Lightroom 3, Photoshop CS5, and with onOne Software’s PhotoTools 2.6. I added a texture on top to give it the feeling of the approaching dark storm. The second image above has no texture added, but was similarly processed. For more information on and images of Chapel Hill, see my other posts Star Trails Over Chapel Hill, Starry Starry Night and Chapel Hill.
August 2013 update: Sadly, Judge Clark recently passed away at the age of 81 from advanced Parkinson’s disease. He was a devout Roman Catholic and kind, gentle man, treasured by so many people. His service was held at Chapel Hill.