After the Fires in California_We need you

Before the fires. Lush green mosses and ferns cover the trees during the rainy season in Sugarloaf State Park, California, which lies at the top of the Nunn’s Canyon area off Highway 12 in Sonoma, heart of the Nunn’s Canyon fire that also took out a lot of Glen Ellen. I wonder what it looks like now…

It raged, hot and infernal, consuming everything in its path, this fire-

In just moments, all was gone – houses, cars, memorabilia, furniture, cars, keepsakes, the stuff of lives lived, for so many. Most escaped with their lives, some with barely the skin on their backs. Now, they need everything – from underwear to shoes, hair combs to shampoo, to roofs over their heads, to food in their stomachs. Please do what you can to help via any one of the relief funds out there. Sonoma and Napa county residents thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support. Here’s one link to a fire relief fund from my local credit union – it will help all four counties, because even Mendocino and Lake County were affected by fires that fateful weekend. 

The land looks like a war zone in places, houses reduced to rubble and ashes. Along Highway 12, about 13 wineries were affected, some completely destroyed, others in limbo as they can’t get to their last tons of grapes on their vines due to closures. It’s truly a mess, and it’s a domino effect. Two large hotels burned, about 13 wineries along Highway 12 into Sonoma were affected in various degrees, and all those employees lose their jobs temporarily, and many of them lost their homes at the same time, a double whammy! 

But in talking with so many supportive friends, I realized that the media coverage may have you all thinking that everything burned to a crisp. Not true! Not ALL of Sonoma or Napa or the town of Santa Rosa burned to the ground. So much is still standing, still functional, and we need to get the word out that we are all open for business. Please spread the word. We need your help. Come visit us, visit all the areas that didn’t burn, visit our coastlines, stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, drink our wine.  And don’t feel guilty about spending your vacation days in a luxury hotel or campsite (!) when so many are dealing with such losses. We need your money, to put it bluntly. And the counties will rebuild. Resilience is a wonderful thing. 

On the side of Nature, the hillsides and forests that burned are dull and scorched, the understory consumed in the flames. This in the end is a good thing, to clear out some of the ‘fuel’ that controls fires. And our native oaks and bay trees were designed to withstand heat/scorching, so all are not lost; and in a short time, with our winter rains, our hillsides will ‘green up’ again, the wildflowers will burst forth to show us that Nature is healing, and if enough rain, we may even have a bumper year for wildflowers, ironically, in burned and disturbed areas.  The trees will send out new shoots, the pine cones that needed fire have distributed their seeds, and the scars of fire will be covered in green mosses in the forests. In time, those that lost much will heal, and renew, too, but it will take longer than a season, I’m afraid. 

There were mixed messages during how it all began, at first, but it appears that with 10% or less humidity during a hot dry spell, small fires broke out here and there during that fateful Saturday afternoon, and stiff winds just whipped them up into bigger fires until power transformers were exploding on poles and adding to the fires. My partner saw flashes all over the hillside in the near distance Saturday evening, and thought it was dry lightning at first but later learned it was likely the transformers exploding on burning power poles. Locals escaping the firestorm said it was like ‘mortar fire’ the way the transformers were popping. yikes!

I was in Slovenia about to lead my photo tour, and I was stunned beyond belief with the breaking news via texts from my partner. I was helpless, as were friends from my area that were with me on the tour; we couldn’t go home, that wouldn’t help, but nor did we feel right having fun and being creative at first, with so much hanging in the unknown. And then we felt guilty – when we learned that our homes were spared. It’s normal to feel that way, but what an emotional milkshake it was for us the first few days. Returning last Thursday evening, to rain, the air was thick with an acrid smell, like a wet old campfire, but oh how welcome that rain was! And it put us on top of getting the fires under control, which are now mostly 90% and higher contained. finally. Now, let’s hope for more rain to keep our land moist and soggy and protected.

The blog picture below is of a vineyard below Nunn’s Canyon road east of Santa Rosa. I don’t know exactly what it looks like now, but I do know areas along Highway 12 did not fare well, especially the town of Glen Ellen. But even businesses that were spared in Glen Ellen are again opening for business! There was no pattern to this fire, as sustained winds of 35-50mph with gusts to 78 mph in some areas scattered the embers in many directions almost simultaneously, as if a dragon breathed across the land while swaying it’s head back and forth. Unfathomable.

And as I sat here at home this past weekend, sifting through the news bits and pictures, trying to get my head around it all, I found that I couldn’t. I missed all the terror, the uncertainty of potential evacuation, the panic of those who had to flee, and I will never really know how it all felt. While I’m grateful to be spared all that anguish, my heart aches for all of those that went through this in some way or another.


Area along Highway 12 near Nunn’s Canyon


Links for good facts about the fires: Press Democrat and a map showing the burned areas. 

Thanks for reading,

Posted in Brenda Tharp's Photo Blog, events, general photography, Landscape Photography, Uncategorized

Nature and Man


There are so many titles for a picture like this – ‘persistence’ being one of them. I loved the overlapping shapes and the shades of white/gray, and this little tree was just the perfect focal point to have in there. It may be planted in a pot on a rooftop balcony for all I know, but it represents the persistence of life to grow wherever it can, and I like the natural element juxtaposed with the manmade here. 

Having too much fun here in Santorini! Below is another fun image, converted to black and white, as I felt the blue strip of sky was distracting…



Thanks for visiting!


Posted in Black-and-White, Brenda Tharp's Photo Blog, Europe, photographs, travel photography

Seeing Beyond in Santorini

It is very easy to see the luxury villas and hotels stepping up and down the steep hillsides here, like snow blanketing the brown landscape, but I came to Santorini to find a different type of photograph. The architecture provides such an incredible opportunity to find graphic compositions of shadows, shapes, and forms, and color and black and white are superb here! You’ll see pics of those soon!

While walking around looking for those kind of photographs, I couldn’t help but notice all the Asian girls, mostly Chinese, I believe, who were posing in wedding gowns. Many had been married back home but were now on their honeymoon and the girls wanted to have their pictures taken in their dresses in this iconic location, I’m told for Instagram posting. They are everywhere here, around any corner, you will unexpectedly find a girl posing in her dress, her husband (or soon to be husband) dutifully snapping away. It’s not just the brides, though; many women, dressed as if going to a wedding or a ball, are standing on rooftops, posing, like supermodels, while their men make their pictures. I won’t comment on all of that, but it has been fun to try and capture some of those moments, along with other scenes I am actually seeking! This church and bell tower were pretty enough, but who could resist the brilliant red dress of the bride (and in this case her groom) on a rooftop near the dome? I positioned myself to line up the cross on the gate with the back wall as best as it would fit, to complete the composition. 


Posted in The Blog, travel photography Tagged , , , , , |

Looking for Impressions in Tuscany

I’m returning to Tuscany, Italy in 2018, co-leading a tour with pro photographer Jed Manwaring. Someone asked why I go back so many times; I could list a) the light, b) the food, c) the landscape, d) the food, e) the wine, f) did I say the food?!

Seriously though, each time I return, I challenge myself to see it differently. Sure there are the classic, iconic, and bucolic landscapes that I love, and the light and mood is different each visit, but beyond the standards, I am on the lookout for pictures that transcend where I am. I am looking at light, shadows, color, form, and moments like the blog image here, that catch you by surprise. I was first drawn to the long shadows of the people standing there, when suddenly this young boy began to walk back and forth in my frame. I spotted the shadow but it wasn’t ‘right’ at first. Thankfully he just kept doing it and I managed to capture a moment when his profile was the best. 

On our tours, no matter where we are, we emphasize creative vision – we know that people come to experience the place(s) we visit, but we encourage everyone to go beyond the classic scenes and to capture their impressions, their feelings about the places we visit. 

So, once again we’ll be enjoying the food, the wine, the people – and we’ll be enjoying the fresh ‘canvas’ of Tuscany in spring with poppies in the meadows, warm light on the medieval stone villages, and rolling landscapes that made history through the eyes of painters, first. 

For more information, visit here, or go straight to Strabo Tours for info and to register. 

Posted in Brenda Tharp's Photo Blog, Italy, travel photography, workshops & photo tours Tagged , , , , , , , , |