This lovely couple flew into John Wayne Airport from Seattle in late Winter for an isolated and beautiful beach Elopement in Laguna Beach. Diver's Cove on the North side of main beach offered them just the intimate setting for which they we're looking to elope.
When my new client came in from Texas, he knew he wanted to propose to his girlfriend at the beautiful and intimate Corona Del Mar beach. Despite not having met in preson, I patiently waited on the beach for him to find me and give me the signal. They made it down to the beach just as the sun was hitting the horizon, which is when he got on one knee. We couldn't have asked for a better golden hour to capture this awesome moment!
A couple weeks ago, the same childhood friend who had taught me to ride my first Honda XR-70 reached out about doing this photo shoot along the Pacific Coast Highway. When he told me his vision, I knew that the stretch from Newport Beach to Laguna Beach would be the perfect place to capture the long stretches of Highway 1 where the road meets the ocean. These photos turned out to be some of my favorite from 2017 so far, and totally represent what California dreaming is all about.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is home to the oldest trees in the world. We had no idea what to expect from this trip, as I prefer to do minimal research before heading out on endeavors. I like to learn as I go, which contrasts to many who like to make a step by step game plan before embarking on their journey. Despite our lack trip planning, we were simply blown away by all the monumental views there were.
For the majority of our visit, we remained in absolute isolation. This was in part because we panned our trip 1 week before this mountainside becomes closed for the winter. On the other hand, after having spoken with the knowledgeable rangers at the ranger station near Methuselah Grove, this remains to be one of California's most remarkable and least known treasures. If you are searching for a weekend getaway, to witness one of the oldest living life forms on earth, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is the trip to make!
Slideshow from the oldest trees in the world.
Looking for some peace and quiet away from all the rush hour traffic and overpopulated tourist destinations of LA?
Hidden in the mountains of Hacienda Heights, lies the largest Chinese Buddhist Temple in the United States. Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple is a traditional Chinese Mahayana Buddhist monastery, created in the fashion of Ming and Ching dynasty architecture. Not only does this space provide breathtaking mountainous views, but it also offers an awesome vegetarian buffet that is open to the public!
3456 Glenmark Dr., Hacienda Heights, 91745
The vegetarian buffet is open to the public Monday through Friday, 11:30am-1:30pm, as well on Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am-2:30pm.
When parking at the bottom of the hill, you are greeted by an enormous gateway titled, "International Buddhist Progress Society."
Just like any other mountain or "hike" in China, you must climb a series of stairs to reach the entrance. While entry to the grounds are free, it is recommended you give a small donation.
Friday, September 23rd 2016 was another big day at the infamous Wedge in Newport Beach California. The Wedge is a wave that is formed by a south/southwest swell that, under the right conditions, can produce a wave up to 30ft in height. A wave bounces off the man made rock jetty that protects the entrance of the Newport Beach Harbor, which then redirects to rejoin the main wave closer to shore. The effect is a world class wave that is pushed vertically to extraordinary heights. These photos were taken from the first big swell of Fall, with waves 8-10ft. It was very hard to stay out of the water.
When you only have a short impromptu weekend to spend in Death Valley, you have to make the most of your time. Our group of four narrowed down our top location to one splendid day of epic desert at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Remember those scenes in Star Wars where R2D2 and C3PO are wandering through the wasteland of Tatooine? Well, if you have a childhood, then that’s exactly where we'll be going.
From Orange County, we left on our 4 and 1/2 hour journey around 2am. When we hit highway 178, the sun just started to rise. In the desert, it seems like morning turns to afternoon in a matter of moments. Because we didn't do much planning prior to embarking on our trip, we expected to improvise and find a camp site with relative ease. Let me tell you, this was not the case. We pulled into campsite after campsite, mostly to find spots either filled up completely, or without first come first serve spaces available.
Eventually, this led us to Stovepipe Wells Campground -- arguably the least inspiring campsite in all of Death Valley. Nonetheless, we were happy to have a found a spot away from the hordes of tourists and the early to bedders.
We setup camp, and we were exhausted.
See note 1.
Note 1: Everyone was a weenie I was ready to go.
Anyways, lets fast forward to our nearest hike at Mosaic Canyon trail! (Aka Helms Deep) The walls of this trail have been smoothed down by years and years of flash floods, which carry thick grit and polish the walls into smooth marble. Its actually pretty cool. Literally. Find a spot in the shade, and you'll see that the rock will really cool you down after hiking in the later morning sun.
To be honest, having grown up camping in desert locations across southern California, this spot wasn't the most exciting. I had Mesquite Sand Dunes on my mind the whole time! But that didn't stop us from grabbing a few memorable photos.
To Continue Reading, turn the page.
On our second day in Death Valley, we waited for the sun to head towards the horizon before we made our way down to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. A little bit of Sand boarding and smoke bombs never hurt anybody. =p
For our final night in Death Valley, I made sure to muster enough energy *cough* redbull *cough* to stay up most of the night and play around with long exposures. While I wasn't very experienced with astro-photography at the time, the low light conditions from the new moon and distance from any neighboring cities was perfect for my first go around.
The trial and error from this night taught me that I not only needed to invest in a sturdier tri-pod to minimize camera shake, but I also needed to invest in a remote timer. Nonetheless, I think I got a few cool images from the night! I hope you enjoy. P.S. Let me know if you spot any clouds that look like UFO's, I may have freaked myself out a bit...
Though this post is not photo-related, I thought I would share this unique experience in which many friends and family have asked.
On January 1, 2014, I attended a ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat in Hong Kong. Because I was living in Guizhou, China, while teaching English with the Peace Corps, I had the opportunity to visit countless Buddhist temples throughout my travels. Visiting these temples sparked a deep interest in the culture and practices of Buddhism, as I have always been open-minded and fascinated by the world's religions. So, I decided there would not be a better way to learn about Buddhism than to sign up for a ten-day silent meditation retreat. The Code of Discipline at the retreat was very strict:
1. to abstain from killing any being;
2. to abstain from stealing;
3. to abstain from all sexual activity;
4. to abstain from telling lies; and
5. to abstain from all intoxicants.
These precepts are the first five precepts of Buddhism. To adhere to these five precepts meant attendees could not: (1) eat meat; (2) take anything that is not theirs; (3) please themselves sexually; (4) speak; and (5) drink alcohol and smoke. To add to all the abstinence, you are not allowed to make physical contact with another person, to exercise, use any electronic devices, listen to music, read or write, and even look at anyone else in the eyes. Members of the opposite sex were also separated by a barrier, except for when joining together for group meditation. These rules are designed to limit outside stimuli and the collective input from your five senses. They aim to keep you focused on the meditation practice at hand. Pretty interesting, huh?
For the first three days, our teachers had us focus on our breathing. Read that sentence again. We woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to the sound of a small gong resonating, a sound with which I had a complicated relationship. We ate a modest breakfast and enjoyed a cup of green tea to help wake us up. We then entered a small meditation room with a padded floor, grabbed a pillow stacked at the entrance, and found a place to sit amongst the rows of participants. Right away, we proceeded to meditate, for eleven hours a day, broken up only by 15-minute intermittent breaks and meals.
Have you ever engaged in a single activity for eleven hours in one day? Until this retreat, I had not. The first three days of mediation, 33 hours in total, was spent focusing on the sensation of our breath entering and leaving our noses. In hindsight, this was meant to train our focus for the following seven days of meditation. I found the act of focusing on my breath rather simple because I am a runner, and often paid attention to my breathing while running long distances. Also, while studying at UCLA, a friend from Berkeley gave me a book by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, called The Art of Power. It explains how we can lower our stress and enhance our connection to our surroundings by focusing on our breath, whether that be contemplating in a quiet space or walking down a busy street. Ever since I read that book, I have been mindful of my breath. Because breathing is a human faculty that can be mindfully controlled, meditation can affect our state of mind and mood. Some practitioners, like The Iceman (Wim Hoff), even argue that we can control our nervous system by focusing on our breath.
Because of my love for running and reading Thich Nhat Hanh, I had a general idea of what to expect from the first three days of the meditation retreat. What I did not expect was excruciating pain caused by long periods of sitting in place. Exercise has always been an integral part of my lifestyle. Sitting with my legs crossed on a small pillow on the floor for hours on end was not. I soon came to regret all the years that I sat with terrible posture throughout my schooling. Quasimodo would scoff at the way I hunched at my desk. Prolonged sitting caused me so much pain that I had no other choice, but to stretch continually and to readjust my position. All this movement caused me to become self-conscious because no one else in the room was moving, which considerably decreased my ability to focus on my breath. On the upside, my posture began to improve drastically.
After what seemed like an eternity, on day four, our teachers taught Vipassana meditation. As the story goes, the original Buddha, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama from east India, discovered Vipassana meditation in the fourth century BCE. After renouncing his prince-hood and entering a life of spiritual development, he famously sat underneath a Bodhi tree and vowed to not rise from the ground until he discovered the truth behind reality. For over a month, he sat in place and suffered every pain imaginable. His body ached, he fought the drastic changes in temperature, and staved off severe hunger and thirst. It was through his suffering that he realized that pain is an essential part of the human experience. However, he realized he had the free will to determine how he responded to that pain.
So, the practice of Vipassana is essentially the retraining of our response to pain. Usually, when people experience pain, they do whatever it takes to prevent the negative feeling from continuing. They push it down, suck it up, fight, yell, or run. Most of the time, we end up intensifying our traumatic experiences by overreacting to them. For instance, we may accidentally drop and break our expensive electronics. Once our coveted possession breaks, there is no turning back the hands of time. It does not matter how much we yell or scream, or blame other people; the damage is done. We have the option of accepting reality by coming to terms with the accident and moving on, or letting it tear at us. I believe most people in this instance would react negatively. We may go to work the next day in a sour mood, subconsciously letting the negative energy from this incident bleed into other areas of our lives. Instead, we should take control of the way we react and the way we make the people around us feel.
This is what the Buddha realized, that life, experienced through the practice of prolonged meditation, is painful. It is painful and uncomfortable to sit and deal with the negative physical sensations we may encounter while meditating, like sore muscles, hunger and thirst, and lack of blood flow. So instead of reinforcing those negative sensations, Vipassana meditation teaches us to detach ourselves from them. Feel them—yes—observe the feeling—yes—but do not allow them take control of our well being. By resisting the urge to react to negative sensations, many practitioners find that past painful and traumatic experiences begin to arise in their memories.
Memories they have long forgotten about, somehow come to the forefront of their minds, because the brain associates the pain of both situations as one. When this happens, many people break down into tears. These painful memories are sometimes buried deep in their subconscious where they lay dormant for many years. When they arise again, through mental or physical triggers (or in this case our secular form of meditation), practitioners are offered a second opportunity to either (1) react negatively and reinforce the negative emotion or (2) experience the memories and emotions fully and detach themselves from them. The latter choice not only frees practitioners from carrying these burdens for the rest of their lives, but it also trains them not to repress future painful experiences that are an inevitable part of life.
Do I consider myself a Buddhist? No. Do I practice meditation regularly? Unfortunately, no. But I did take away many valuable lessons from this ten-day experience. Sitting in silence for ten days was one of the most challenging events of my life. While I look back on this experience fondly, I know I will probably not return to a retreat like this for a very long time. I am content living with the idea that we all have the power to determine how we react to life's happenings, and ultimately that we can choose happiness over suffering. I highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in learning about themselves and has a heart set on developing an attitude for self-growth.
If you have any questions about my experience, feel free to leave a comment below: