The 7 Most Important California Photos I've Shot / by chris miele

"Contrast Tree" - Santa Monica, CA

Palisades Park in Santa Monica greeted me like a dream when I first arrived in 2008.  Drawn to it continually, my first shutter clicks as an LA resident were from here, but it was this larger than life bonsai tree that stole the show.  Three years after first photographing it I was about to do my first art show, ever.  I wasn’t even sure what I was going to present, photos, paintings, drawings, it honestly was anybody’s guess.  After deciding on a (less than precise) combination of photos and paintings to exhibit, I was bummed to realize I deleted the original shot of this tree.  It was the re-shoot of this tree that would set off a new quest.  When the sun disappeared this night and blue hour set in, I kept shooting.  Longer and longer exposures.  As my shots became longer, I hadn’t noticed the distinct orange glow from the park lights.  It was only after a 15 second exposure that the magic of twilight revealed itself to me.  Literally dumbfounded by what I had uncovered, the resulting image was far from anything I could have imagined.  It wasn’t but a week after this shot that I picked up my camera seriously for the first time.  I haven’t put it down since.  That was April 2011.

"Krypton Leak" - Devil's Postpile, CA

Without a doubt this image from Devil’s Postpile is likely the best image I've taken.  As I’ve (slowly) started to understand what my audience connects with the most, this image has been my biggest teacher.  I had only started astrophotography the summer prior, but this image cemented the style, feeling, and emotion that would define my work.  I shot this image two days prior to experiencing a family tragedy where my brother in law passed away suddenly.  He’d always been one of my biggest voices of support and encouragement.  He loved my night shots and this was the only one he missed seeing.   I truly believe that in his passing, some of his energy was passed onto this image, his way of giving me one final push to chase what I love doing.  

"The Vision" - Silverado, CA

Music has been my biggest creative influence.  My earliest images were the direct result of getting lost with nothing but my camera and headphones.  More and more I began following music and in May 2012 it led me to Lightning In A Bottle.  A friend had hinted that I should “get ready, you’re about to experience you’re first festival.”   Truer words couldn’t have been spoken.  Far from the soulless setting of many a concert, this place was different and unlike anything I’d experienced before.  Three days of pure expression and creativity swirled about and I was hooked, no scratch that, addicted.  My experiences at LIB not only revealed things to me about who I was an artist, but it set in motion changes in perspective, priority, and lifestyle that continue to drive me forward today.  

 

"Chiseled Redemption" - Venice Beach, CA

In all of the beauty that LA holds, I found it hard to create quality images locally.  Perhaps I had just grown familiar with the places I had lusted after as a youth, but regardless, local scenes proved challenging.  Most of the beaches in LA lack the components I usually look for in my seascapes, but I had been eyeballing the breakwater in Venice for quite a while.  My first attempt of this shot did nothing but soak me and nearly ruin my camera.  I returned the next week when I saw the winter sky showing some promise, hopeful for redemption.  The ability to disguise locations is one of my favorites practices and this image is perhaps my best achievement.  People are often drawn to this image because of the symmetry and the sun, but when they ask where (and they almost always do) their reaction to “Venice Beach” is sheer surprise.  Watching their preconceived notion of a place change instantly is one of the reasons why I love creating images.

"Brain Flash" - San Francisco, CA

One of the best things about my time in LA was being able to take a $60, hour long fight to San Francisco.  Even better was taking a $10, 40 minute ride on the BART to Downtown.  To round it out, I could stay at a super rad hostel for $30 in Chinatown.  What I’m getting at here is that San Francisco is an amazing city.  Not the tech hub San Francisco where endless start-ups have super inflated the renter market, but the San Francisco where fantastic culture, art, food, and nature is very accessible.  San Francisco was my Vegas (for the record I hate Vegas), it was where after stepping foot off the plane I would go full throttle until I set foot back in LA.  The experiences I had there with some of my favorite people on the planet only added to the legend that became San Francisco.  It was after this photo, and this weekend, that I thought long and hard about making a move and relocating to the Bay.  San Francisco represented endless adventure and symbolized the gateway to northern sectors that I hadn’t yet explored.  After sitting with this photo and reflecting on my experiences, I decided to leave the mystique of the city intact.  I feared that living there would extinguish the magic.  I always joked that SF was my mistress, and that I cheated on LA with her.  Boy it sure was an affair to write home about though.

 

"Lake Of Fire" - John Muir Wilderness, CA

One of my early goals was to take a shooting trip at least once a month.  It was this goal that fueled the acceleration of my initial work.  A byproduct of this goal was that I started back-country camping, usually 2-3 night adventures.  Being deep in the wilderness was the only way to access many areas during the hours of sunrise and sunset.  After a successful summer of backpacking with friends, the time came in late September 2011 to take another step and embark on my first solo backpacking journey.  This was Blue Lake, an alpine lake west on Bishop, CA, and my first stop on the trip.  A late departure from LA meant that reaching this spot by sunset was a serious hustle.  A clearing thunderstorm made for a soggy ascent, but it also provided a mega light show.  Never had I seen how a high elevation thunderstorm would effect the atmosphere.  To this day there are few displays of light that I’ve seen compare.  My rapid ascent also let to the worst case of AMS (acute mountain sickness) that I’ve experienced.  Not many images have provided so many lessons learned at this one.   

"First Date" - Venice Beach, CA

A first date that turned into 3 dates, in the same day.  This is the photo from part 3 of that first date.  For me, when someone looks to the sky mid afternoon and says “wow I think it’s gonna be a great sunset” my ears perk up, when they make it a daily point to watch the sunset, now they’ve really got all my attention.  Such was the case when I met a girl named Erin.  After some coffee, a cocktail, and conversation that didn’t want to end, we decided an impromptu sunset picnic was only natural.  After running to the grocery store we dashed for the beach, my camera gear in hand obviously.  From Rose Ave we walked straight out onto the beach in Venice.  To our delight, we were greeted with a giant freshly sculpted heart in the sand.  Now being our first date we didn’t want to take anything too seriously, but come on, sometimes the universe just gives you the signs.  We enjoyed one of the best sunsets of the winter, and thanks to that day, we now continue to enjoy sunsets  all over the country together.