The Story Behind: Valley Oak, Planet Venus

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One of the things I love about nature is the continuing cycle of seasonal change. Everything is in a constant state of flux. I could shoot at a certain spot and take dozens of images and I can return a few months later and shoot a dozen more completely different ones. The players are the same but they've donned new outfits. 

As I traveled down through the foothills of Central California every winter, I was struck by how amazing the gnarly Valley Oak trees looked without their leaves. The branches formed myriad patterns in all directions-- each tree a unique individual. Continuing that metaphor, I thought about how each tree possesses a sold trunk for support and wide roots unseen beneath the ground providing a firm foundation-- but also exhibits individualistic branches spread out and reaching for the heavens, stretching towards the light. Each in its own special way.

So when I considered  how I might capture that in a photograph, I imagined a black silhouette against a colorful sky-- showing the individual branches to their maximum effect and with the trunk firmly planted in the ground. I set out in the early afternoon to find the right tree standing out by itself against the southwestern sky. I set up the tripod and composed the shot and waited for the sunset to color the sky. The sunset shots were not bad, but not exactly what I had imagined. So I waited a few more minutes to see how the twilight might play out. As the sky darkened, the twilight did not disappoint but an unintended phenomena also occurred-- the planet Venus revealed itself in the fading purple sky above the tree! I quickly recomposed and shot this 8-second exposure with Venus just above the branches. Two minutes later, the sky was dark blue. A dream, a plan and some patience was rewarded with more than I had even imagined. Such is life.

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