Photo: Clouds over the Briones Crest, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California

Photos of the Briones Crest taken during a recent spontaneous hike

Image (above) : Clouds over the Briones Crest, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California; #01 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

What’s a photographer to do? After arriving back home from a client meeting recently, and with less than two hours before sunset, I couldn’t help but notice the clouds building in the sky as another of California’s late winter storms started to roll into the San Francisco Bay Area. There are certain times where we as landscape or travel photographers are forced to assess conditions, and for lack of a better term, we roll the dice and gamble that conditions will turn in our favor. This was one of those evenings when a small gap in the clouds to the west could have created one of those super-epic newsworthy sunsets. So with a quick change of clothes into my hiking apparel, I headed for the Briones Crest along the upper ramparts of the nearby Briones Regional Park. I arrived at trailhead with just over an hour until sunset, and I figured a very quickly-paced 2.25-mile hike would get me to a wonderful overlook with very little time to spare. I carried my recently acquired used Sony A6300 which I specifically use while hiking. I couldn’t help but snap a few pictures of the clouds as I hustled my way up the trail. It’s a good thing I did, because that epic sunset never occurred. As I headed back to my truck in the gathering darkness, I felt much better about the hike itself than I did about the photos that I captured, since the actual sunset itself was pretty much a total letdown. However, I must admit by the time it came to processing these shots, I was much happier with the coverage than my initial (lowered) expectations would have led me to believe.

A note on the camera: this lightweight mirrorless 24mp camera is proving itself to be most capable. After hauling my Nikon D800 gear nearly 10 miles on a hike to North Dome in Yosemite, I knew a change in my gear was needed. This camera and lens set (Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f/4) weighs less than one of my D800 lenses. All of these shots here, including the panoramas, and with the exception of the last two, were all taken hand-held. Of the last two, one image is a Lightroom-processed HDR, which for the first time I am finding any automated HDR process to produce really nice, natural looking results. But you can see by comparing with the other, which is a single-frame processed shot, the dynamic range on these Sony sensors is really incredible. (Sony also makes the sensors used in the Nikon D800/D810.)

Image: Clouds over Briones Regional Park in spring, Contra Costa County, California
Clouds over the Briones Crest, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California; #02 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

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Image: Clouds over Briones Regional Park in spring, Contra Costa County, California
Clouds over the Briones Crest, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California; #03 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

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Image: Clouds over Briones Regional Park in spring, Contra Costa County, California
Clouds over the green hills of Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California; 04 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

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Image: Clouds over Briones Regional Park in spring, Contra Costa County, California
Sunset light and green hills in spring, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California; #05 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

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Image: Clouds over Briones Regional Park in spring, Contra Costa County, California
Clouds over the Briones Crest, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California; #06 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

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Image: Clouds over Briones Regional Park in spring, Contra Costa County, California
Clouds over the Briones Crest, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California; #07 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

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Image: Clouds over Briones Regional Park in spring, Contra Costa County, California
Clouds over Mount Diablo, Contra Costa County, California; #08 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

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Image: Clouds over Briones Regional Park in spring, Contra Costa County, California
Panorama of clouds over Mount Diablo and the Diablo Valley, Contra Costa County, California; #09 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

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Image: Clouds over Briones Regional Park in spring, Contra Costa County, California
Stormy sunset over the green hills of Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California; #10 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

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Image: Clouds over Briones Regional Park in spring, Contra Costa County, California
Stormy sunset over the green hills of Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California; #11 (Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications.)

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**** Thanks for looking, and of course I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about the images if you’d care to leave a comment below. (Can you tell which of the last two images is the HDR?)



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Gary Crabbe is an award-winning commercial and editorial outdoor travel photographer and author based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, California. He has seven published books on California to his credit, including “Photographing California; v1-North”, which won the prestigious 2013 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal award as Best Regional title. His client and publication credits include the National Geographic Society, the New York Times, Forbes Magazine, TIME, The North Face, Subaru, L.L. Bean, Victoria’s Secret, Sunset Magazine, The Nature Conservancy, and many more. Gary is also a photography instructor and consultant, offering both public and private photo workshops. He also works occasionally a professional freelance Photo Editor.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Donna McClure says:

    Thanks for sharing these Gary.
    That #4 image with the sun on the green hills is splendid. My area is also lush & green. They will be good to see after everything turns summer brown/gold!

  • Hall Kelley says:

    Beautiful, natural Chiaroscuro effects, well-rendered.

  • Ced Bennett says:

    Gary, these are lovely images, thanks for sharing them. My WAG on which is the HDR is the vertical image. As you know, I often take triple-images for possible (natural) HDR but I’ve been finding more and more that in most cases using just one of those provides enough dynamic range to suffice.

  • These are gorgeous images, Gary. I won’t even attempt to select a favorite — probably the “Sunset Light and Green Hills…” because it’s so unusual. Clouds can be very effective and dramatic and shouldn’t be considered a poor second to a sunset. I agree with you about the Sony cameras — I have the A6000 and find it very useful when one wants to move quickly; in fact, a few days ago I was walking rapidly along the seafront in a Massachusetts coast town capturing storm clouds as they rolled in. My Nikon d7100 is for my more contemplative photography.

  • Eric Jaeger says:

    Great shots, Gary. Briones has always been tough for me — there’s something about the place that just doesn’t trigger my eye. I hike in Briones, and I live in Oakland, by Redwood Park, and I have much the same challenge here. I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t “see” well in these places (of course, I also grew up with this environment. Familiarity breeds…?).. Be that as it may, these shots of yours are inspiring me to look closer. And that brilliant green doesn’t hurt.

    (p.s. I started using a Sony a6300 last year. Do you like the 16-70?)

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