dominguez_dip Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Dominguez Gap Wetlands



I am going to be part of a great upcoming show on the LA River. Info below and I hope you can make it, should be a fun evening. Will post some of the photos from the show in the weeks leading up to the show

ANNOUNCING: Gallery Opening on Saturday,February 20th, 2016  – from 7-10pm
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Keystone Art Space will host an opening reception for “The Los Angeles River: A City Runs Through It” – a photography exhibition. The show features our personal explorations of this unique river. Come see the images by Diane Pirie Cockerill, Peter Bennett, Mark Indig, Sal Taylor Kydd, Kevin McCollister, Maureen Van Leeuwen Haldeman & Keith Douglas Skelton

Discarded doll in the Los Angeles River

I thought it would be fun to show some still lifes. By far the weirdest picture I have taken on the river is this old doll. It was a big hit at the high school class I showed it to last week.

Trash in the LA River

Still life of some trash in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sepulveda Basin.

Plastic water bottle floating in ocean

I shot this plastic water bottle in the Santa Monica Bay a few years ago for a story in Sierra Magazine.

Los Angeles RIver

My favorite sign along the River, nailed into the Sunnynook  edestrian Bridge in the Glendale Narrows. Sadly someone took it down a couple of years ago.

Los Angeles RIver

Skateboard still life in the Glendale Narrows.

Sepulveda Dam, Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve,

Just watched Escape from New York the other day and where was a lot of it filmed? The Sepulveda Dam of course, what could be more New York right? The Sepulveda Basin has some of the most diverse scenery along the LA River, from the austere Sepulveda Dam to the lush overgrown amazon river like stretch between Balboa and Burbank Blvds.

Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area

Yes, this is the LA River! Its a strange little waterfall on the river just south of the Balboa Bridge in the Sepulveda Basin.


One of my LA River Bird series, taken just near the Sepulveda Dam

Los Angeles River under Balboa Blvd

Under Burbank Blvd. in the Sepulveda Basin

6th Street Bridge

This is the Sixth Street Bridge from a different angle. I took it from the end of the Viaduct just off S Boyle Ave on Whittier Blvd in East LA. A lot of homeless camping out nearby made this a little hairy, they have their encampments on the side of the hill overlooking the I-10

Raphael Sbarge films FoLAR documentary along banks of Los Angeles River

Fernando Gomez, Chief Ranger for the MRCA (Mountains, Recreation and Conservation Authority) and a really nice guy


The Sixth Street Bridge is coming down soon, here is poster I made a few years ago. It entailed some sneaking through fences and dodging railroad guards and trains to cross the tracks that run alongside the river just south of the bridge. It was worth it as the sky that night was extraordinary. Available at –

LA River Rainstorm

Yay, first rains of the season, hopefully many more to come. This is from last year from the 7th Street Bridge towards the 6th Street Bridge. Amazing how that small trickle turns into a torrent in such a short time.


Another poster from my Historic Bridges series. My favorite is the Buena Vista Bridge which crosses the LA River at North Broadway and connects East LA with Chinatown. Available at

Dolphins and oil derrick, Catalina Channel

Not the LA River but all our waters are connected. Just did a series of environmental prints, this one was the result of unbelievable luck and timing and allowed me to line up the dolphins with the oil rig in the Catalina Channel – see more from this series –

Vernon, California

Vernon is a strange place to say the least. Miles and miles of industrial buildings, warehouses and food processing plants. The water tower along the river with the skyline in the background is one of the few bright spots. More from the Vernon Gallery here –

So happy to have my photos used for the new LA River documentary: A Concrete River by Raphael Sbarge. This is the new promotional poster created for the film. This is the actual beginning of the Los Angeles River located in Canoga Park, where two channelized streams converge, Bell Creek from Simi Hills in the West and Arroyo Calabasas from the Santa Monica Mountains in the South. Their meeting forms a short flatiron shape with Canoga Park High School sitting atop it and laying back to the West.

Right now the film being submitted to festivals, but will let you know about showings and availability when its out. Here’s the trailer, definitely check it out –


We had a great night last night at the Laemmle NoHo for the premiere of a new LA River documentary – A Concrete River, Reviving the Waters of the LA River. The film was written and directed by my friend Rapahel Sbarge, star of the TNT show Murder in the First, and co-founder of Green Wish. I was able to help out a bit with the film, and contribute some of my stills which were on display in the gallery area, part of the Art in the Arthouse program at Laemmle Theatres. The film was so well received and did such a great job of explaining both the history of the river and its important relationship to Los Angeles, then and now. So well done! Proceeds of the night went to FoLAR which is doing amazing work especially at this critical juncture.

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L to R – Raphael Sbarge, Peter Bennett, Greg Laemmle, Lewis MacAdams, Ed Begley Jr and spokesperson from Green Wish

I was on a panel answering questions about the river including Raphael, FoLAR co-founder Lewis MacAdams, our host Greg Leammle, and actor and activist Ed Begley Jr.. A big part of the success of the evening was introducing so many people to the river – its beauty, its vitality and its importance to the future of our city.


With Greg Laemmle


Mom in the Gallery

Thanks so much to Rapahel for including me and inviting me to show my work, to Greg and Tish Laemmle who were amazing and generous hosts, and to Joshua Elias and Marc Horwitz for curating and helping me pull it all together.

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L to R, Tish Laemmle, Sharon Lawrence, Peter Bennett and Greg Laemmle


Big me and river

The show will be up through October and on display in the theatre’s gallery. If you haven’t visited the Laemmle NoHo, treat yourself to a night at a great theatre in a great little neighborhood in NoHo.

On hot Summer days in Bell (like the ones we are having now), you might find many residents strolling along the river’s channel where the cool breezes funnel through and keep you cool. The river bed is extremely wide down there, but the thin culvert channels the water right down the center, attracting many birds and this family that was watching them.Walking along the Los Angeles River

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A few years ago I was shooting a lot in Vernon (if you have been watching the HBO series True Detective, the town of Vinci is the town of Vernon). One evening I decided to go down the the LA River at Atlantic Blvd. There is a beautiful view of the downtown skyline from there and I got a few nice shots as the sun was setting. Tons of waterfowl were doing their thing but out of nowhere (for me, not the bird) a Great Blue Heron appeared amidst the green patches of bushes that grow out of the concrete river bed and lined up right with the skyline for the best shot of the evening.Los Angeles River with waterfowl, Great Blue Heron, south of downtown Los Angeles.

This was shot a few years ago. I was sneaking around the train tracks on the east side of the river trying to get a good view of the 6th Street Bridge. Got lucky with some great clouds, not always easy in smoggy LA. This is great view of the entrance to the tunnel the film crews use to get down to the river, but I’ve seen a lot of folks just drive down it into the river bed. This will be closing very soon as the they get ready for the demolition scheduled for the Fall.
6th Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River

It took me so long to get a good shot of a Great Blue Heron, now I can’t decide which one I like best.

Great Blue Heron

It may not be the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris, but we do have our own Love Locks Bridge right here in LA along the LA River (see this recent article). Several years ago the locks started appearing along the Sunnynook Pedestrian Bridge in Atwater Village, a beautiful spot along the Glendale Narrows with a wonderful view of the river below.

Love Locks adorn the Sunnynook Bridge

If you haven’t ever walked down to the river under the 6th Street Bridge, you probably only have only a few more weeks left before the ramp is closed off for the demolition that is about to begin. I took this last week, thinking it might be the last time I get down there myself. The end of an era!


I attended the 2nd annual LA River day at City Hall today. It was a day of celebration and commemorations as dozens of people filled the City Council chambers as Mitch O’Farrell and Tom LaBonge led the session. FoLAR Co-founder Lewis MacAdams read a poem, a golden oar and several plaques were given out, but in the end the river was the winner getting its due and holding out a bright future for the city. As the slogan goes: Our River, Our Future.

FoLAR Co-founder Lewis MacAdams and musician Michelle Shocked at Los Angeles River Day

FoLAR Co-founder Lewis MacAdams and musician Michelle Shocked at Los Angeles River Day

Los Angeles River Day

(top row) FoLAR co-Founder Lewis MacAdams, US Army Corps of Engineers’ Colonel Kimberly M. Colloton, LA River Revitalization Corporation’s Omar Brownson, FoLAR’s Shelly Backlar. (bottom row) City Council Members Mitch O’Farrell and Tom LaBonge

Los Angeles River Day

City Council Member Mitch O’Farrell addressing the City Council on Los Angeles River Day

Los Angeles River Day

FoLAR Co-founder Lewis MacAdams at Los Angeles River Day

Los Angeles River Day

City Council Member Tom LaBonge



Yes it could be the Amazon, but it is our own LA River from a trip I took last year. The LA River Recreational Zone just opened for the Summer, so grab a kayak and relax and float downstream, for tomorrow never knows.

6th Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River

Shot this back in 2011. I was setting up a shot and just happened to look up and grab this with the plane. Just lucky that there was still enough light to have a shutter speed fast enough to freeze it.

I am launching my new LA River Pix Facebook page today, a companion to my blog page. It will of course have a lot of LA River Pix and LA River news as well as information about my upcoming book and gallery shows.  My first post shamelessly features these cute ducklings with their mother as they waddled their way down the river banks to the water during the recent annual FoLAR LA River clean-up.

Just want to let you know that I am not above posting as many cute animal shots as I can to promote the site. I am not sure that a Great Blue Heron qualifies as a cute animal shot, but I will try to do my best. Please visit it at




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La Gran Limpieza 2015

One last chance this weekend to join the fun and help clean up our LA River –

If you’ve never had the chance to take part in the annual FoLAR La Gran Limpieza river clean up, you are going to have a chance over the next three weekends: April 11, 18 and 25th. You might say, “well gee Peter, make this sound good why dontcha!” OK, here goes. (A), it is actually fun. Tons of people show up for the chance to help out: young, old, families, couples and plenty of single folks all come out for a few hours and lend a hand cleaning up the river. Last Summer I watched as our Mayor traipsed around the thick underbrush, plucking plastic bags and other assorted trash out of the trees as he went along.

FoLAR (Friends of th LA River) clean up of the Los Angeles River. La Gran Limpieza, May 17, 2008

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Anaheim Mayor settle hockey bet

I have met so many great people at these events; one of the most memorable was the old couple in the photo below. He told me he flew back into town, cutting off a business trip just to participate; he never likes to miss the clean-up. He said he was in his nineties and still running a successful business. Now I’m not saying there is a correlation between regularly volunteering your time at river clean-ups and being a healthy, wealthy Nonagenarian, but hey…

FoLAR' (Friends of the LA River) annual river cleanup, La Grand Limpieza.

(B)  It really is a great way to explore a part of your community, or if you are from a another part of the city like me, the opportunity to learn about a part of town you may not have known much about before. The river is changing and becoming a vital part of this this city, something that is long past due. Kayaking and fishing in the Summer are now just two of the activities you can partake in. Biking along its ever expanding miles of bike trails is great fun, or just walking along its banks to feel a cool breeze on a hot Summer day is a pleasure we can now all enjoy. Much of it made possible by other volunteers over the years! Now the opportunity to do a little bit is yours for the taking over the next three weekends. It feels good, trust me!

FoLAR' (Friends of the LA River) annual river cleanup, La Grand Limpieza.

And (C), when Monday morning around the water cooler comes around and you are asked what you did this weekend, you get to say: “Oh, I was at La Gran Limpieza” at which point you wink and smile knowingly as you walk off.

Hope to see you down there! More info here

FoLAR's River School Day of the LA River. Los Angeles, California, USA.


A few weeks ago I was up in the Central Valley shooting some drought stories and from all the parched earth and empty fields I saw it seemed like we might never have rain again. This current storm here in LA is a very welcome relief, but long term we need a helluva lot more and most importantly we need it in the mountains of the north and the Sierra to seriously replenish the reservoirs and water system that provides for California agriculture and cities. But I’m not complaining! Yet!

Los Angeles River

I never get tired of seeing how mightily the LA River rises after a significant rainstorm and so Tuesday I ventured out to see just how the river had risen. First stop was the Elysian Valley, an area that was hit very hard back in the 1930’s when floodwaters overflowed the riverbanks and washed away houses and lives. I stopped at Marsh Park and immediately saw the water was high and was rushing down each side of the concreted banks. Normally along this stretch the river criss-crosses from bank to bank, but when it overflows the small islands and land strips down it s center, it does what a river does and goes full bore over as much geography as it can.

Los Angeles River

The first thing you notice is the trash – beds, basketballs, plastic bags and a ton of Styrofoam cups bob up and down as the river surges downstream. All this trash comes from the streets, gets swept up by the rain and is flushed down the drain pipes and carried to the river where it either gets caught by a wide boom at Long Beach or, as is mostly the case, travels out to sea – pollutants, toxins and all.

Los Angeles River

A testimony to the strength of the river’s force was evident where a pretty large swell had formed next to the Frank Romero mural just upstream from the Confluence. Water churned violently and all those warnings came to mind about keeping one’s distance from the current lest you end up being dragged downstream along with the Styrofoam cups and other flotsam.

Los Angeles River

The Buena Vista Bridge has a pointed base that always reminds me of the bow of an old battleship, even more so when tons of water surges past it. One of my favorite bridges along the river!

Buena Vista Bridge

Lastly a shot from the 7th Street Bridge looking at the soon to be demolished 6th Street Bridge finished my day. Soggy and tired I looked down into the channel and wondered about all the homeless folks I have encountered down below and along the Glendale Narrows on drier days. A transient life and a dangerous one as well!

6th Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River

You cannot stand on the banks of the river on a day like this and not wonder how we can let all this water just run out to sea. In a time of such severe drought it is painful to see such waste. Some of the plans for the river’s revitalization will address this with added wetlands and more permeable surfaces to allow the water to percolate back to the aquifer, but after a heavy rain there is dramatic increase of water and only a small amount will go down to the water table, most of it, trash and all, will still continue to rush out to sea.  I just read we are still a long way off from actually being able to capture this water for our use, water that could be used for irrigation, cleaning, lawn watering and numerous other uses. Right now we import all our water from the north and east, potable water that we waste on non-potable uses. Really a shame!

Shooting Tips: Shooting in the rain is a pain, no way around it, especially with all the electronics making up the modern camera? I rigged up a zip lock bag with a hole for the lens and a tiny opening for the viewfinder. This at least keeps the body dry. They sell various camera raincoats, but I have yet to try one.

I tried a small umbrella while shooting but it was useless, so I dragged out my beach umbrella and that did a fantastic job of keeping me and the camera dry. Hate to think about what I looked like walking across downtown bridges with my colorful gigantic beach umbrella but maybe I provided a nice photographic moment for someone else.

Keeping the lens dry is the toughest part, even with an umbrella, so carry plenty of wipes for the lens and a cloth or bandana for the body.


One of my favorite places to photograph is the Sepulveda Basin and more specifically the Sepulveda Dam located at the Basin’s Eastern end. I will be leading my semiannual LA River Photo Adventure this coming Saturday and the dam is always one of the most popular stops of the tour.

Sepulveda Dam, Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve,

The dam is an imposing structure especially when standing in the flat-concreted section below it. Graffiti periodically lines the walls and a mélange of discarded stuff ranging from broken bottles to rocks and on rare occasions, sacrificed bird carcasses is scattered about.


Sometimes Cliff Swallows make their mud nests just under the top of the dam and hundreds of excited and expectant parents can be seen diving and manically looping around and above the dam.


It is also a favorite for filming, credits include: Sabotage, Buckaroo Banzai, Iron Man 2, The Fast and the Furious, The Italian JobGattaca, 24, CHiPs, Alias, Bones, Six Millions Dollar Man, Knight Rider and most memorably Escape from New York, when Snake Plissken is almost killed at the end of the film. And the most obscure, a They Might Be Giants music video for “The Statue Got Me High”


The dam was built in 1941 for flood control after the historic floods of 1938 which killed 144 people.

Sepulveda Dam, Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve,

Our tour is this Saturday, October 25 at 8AM. We have a good crowd already signed up, but if you want more info or would like to join us, just go to the Los Angeles Center of Photography website.

I have witnessed and participated in many events along the LA River, but covering and photographing the 1st Annual LA River Boat Race this last Saturday was pretty special. It was historic, it was also loads of fun – the broad grins and/or determined looks on the competitor’s faces as they splashed and shot through the small whitewater rapids would attest to that.

1st annual LA River Boat Race was held on August 30, 2014

The 3/4 mile course was located along a stretch of the river along the Glendale Narrows in the Elysian Valley. Almost a 100 participants competed in a variety of classifications that included Men’s and Women’s Advanced, Intermediate and Beginners as well as Youth, +50, Tandem and Stand-Up Paddle boat.

1st annual LA River Boat Race was held on August 30, 2014

Council member Tom LaBonge acted as MC and official race starter and Ed Begley Jr. kicked off the race as the first participant, which had racers going down the course solo and racing against the clock. The race was organized by L.A. River Expeditions which was founded by George Wolfe who led the 2008 LA River Expedition that led to the river being classified as a navigable river by the EPA and consequently protected under the clean water Act.

1st annual LA River Boat Race was held on August 30, 2014

I was positioned most of the time at the end of the first whitewater run and by a tricky little chute that fooled a good number of people and resulted in either a nice little spill or a leaf facial by a large overhanging tree branch.

1st annual LA River Boat Race was held on August 30, 2014

Pictured below are the respective Men’s and Women’s winners: Brett Duxbury with the best overall time of 9:29 and Liz Brackbill with 10:10.

1st annual LA River Boat Race was held on August 30, 2014

1st annual LA River Boat Race was held on August 30, 2014

Next year I am chucking the heavy camera gear and taking a crack at greatness and competing, it looked like too much fun.

1st annual LA River Boat Race was held on August 30, 2014

Camera notes: I ended using only two lenses the whole time, a Canon 24-105mm and a Canon 400mm fixed lens. The latter proved invaluable and was just perfect at capturing long shots of the racers coming down the rapids. Long lenses visually compress the relationships of the subjects, making them look closer together than they really are. Add some selective focus and you have a dramatic effect that really isolates the action, perfect for sporting events. Another trick that comes in handy is switching your auto focus mode to Servo. Servo is perfect for subjects that keep changing distance. If you press the shutter release button halfway, it will track your subject as it changes distance and remain focused.

Photographing political events and photos ops are pretty strange. It is always a challenge to try to distinguish the “op” from the real, and more often than not there ain’t much real. Last Saturday I found myself down at Marsh Park along the Elysian Valley surrounded by a large fuzzy Lion, a cadre of cheerleaders, a bunch of political handlers all buzzing about along with various groups of helpful citizens there for a river clean-up.

 LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Anaheim Mayor settle hockey bet
Seems the mayors of Los Angeles and Anaheim, Eric Garcetti and Tom Tait, made a bet about their respective hockey teams, the loser in this case was not bound to eat some local culinary specialty, but the Anaheim Mayor instead found himself with a commitment to spend a couple of hours cleaning up the LA River.


I had gone down to shoot some photos of FoLAR’s new refreshment stand and visitor center, the Frog Spot, and thought I would check out the mayoral clean-up which was taking place just a short way up the bike path from it. The festivities were underway when I arrived, the cheerleaders and The LA Kings mascot, Bailey (the big fuzzy lion), were very busy posing for photos with everyone. The crowd was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the mayors who were supposed to kayak down the river to event, but Mayor Tait evidently tipped over in his kayak and the mayor’s ended up taking a more pedestrian entrance and simply walked in.

 LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Anaheim Mayor settle hockey bet
After a variety of speeches, the clean-up began. I stayed close to Mayor Garcetti as he headed down the beveled banks of the river and anxiously looked around for some plastic bags or other trash to pick up. It was hard for him to get too far without someone asking him for a photo with them or the ubiquitous selfie, and as genuinely compliant as the Mayor was, I could tell he was anxious to get to work on the matter at hand. He soon plunged into the thick brush adjacent to the river and I followed him in. The other press photographers stayed in the open and I soon found myself alone deep in the brush with the mayor and his young press assistant.

 LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Anaheim Mayor settle hockey bet
We exchanged a few comments about river trash and the drought and before I knew it the mayor was scampering up a tree to get to the higher branches where the thick masses of plastic bags lodge themselves when the high waters of the winter rains come. At some point I realized this was more than a simple photo op for the mayor, he not only knew what he was doing (he told me he had in fact done several clean-ups before),  but he honestly seemed intent on actually making a dent in the morass of tree lined plastic.

I have photographed the mayor on other occasions and I could tell from the way he spoke about the river and other environmental issues that he is the real deal. The magnificent effort he recently made in Washington DC on the river’s behalf, that yielded a billion dollars of help, bore that out as well. I think we are good hands.

I couldn’t help thinking about when I had photographed Mayor Ed Koch in the Eighties and tried to imagine following “Hizzoner” up a tree in Central Park or venturing with him into the Hudson River. A definite difference in styles!

I’ve been wanting to go kayaking down the LA River since about 2008. That was the year I stood on the shore of the river along the Sepulveda Basin and watched as kayaker George Wolfe emerged from upstream and the dense foliage and shore his craft just in front of me.


Later that year I watched from the bridges overhead and photographed George’s flotilla of kayaks and canoes as he led an expedition along all 52 miles of the river that soon after prompted the EPA to declare the river a navigable waterway and thus be eligible for protection under the clean water act.


Last year I shot a story for Sunset Magazine and scurried along the banks of the Elysian Valley as George once again led a tour of kayaks down the river, but this time it was with his LA River Expeditions company and part of the newly Implemented Recreational Zone Pilot Program that opens up certain stretches of the river for fishing and kayaking from Memorial Day to Labor Day.


Last Sunday I finally got to get in one these oft-photographed kayaks and spend a leisurely two and a half hours paddling up and back down the river in the Sepulveda Basin. We were led by three guides from the aforementioned LA River Expeditions and also joined by George’s wife Thea who did a film of the 2008 River expedition called “Rock the Boat”.

It was an easy trip, certainly a great trip to take for a first time kayaker, but even for myself who has done a fair share of paddling, it was such a unique little journey to take, the experience was so well worth it.

Along the way our guides filled us in on the river’s history and the recent efforts to make the river more accessible to local communities and Angelinos in general. Great Blue Herons, Egrets and Stilts flew overhead or perched on branches above us, no doubt we were a serious interference to their lunchtime efforts. Shredded plastic bags left over from the high waters after Winter rains hung 20 or so feet up in the trees like Christmas tinsel.


My favorite spot was a little stretch call the Grand Canyon. Not really grand, and not much of a canyon, but an unusual landscape and a break from the overhanging foliage that lines the riverbank.

The tours get booked up very quickly, but there are several companies leading tours down the river and sometimes some spots get added later in the Summer. You are also free to bring your own kayak and go it alone. Either way will be a very different view of the river and a challenge to your typical perspective of life in LA.


Photo notes. I was basically told that everything I had with me on the kayak would get wet and that turned out to be true. I encased one of my less expensive digital cameras in a zip lock plastic bag with a hole punched out for the lens. It did keep a lot of the splashing from the paddles from soaking the camera. It also made taking pictures very awkward and in the end I was kind of disappointed with the results of my photo efforts for the day. A more than usual amount of out of focus images and getting creative was a challenge that didn’t really pay off. Guess I’ll have to try it again.

If you have spent any time exploring even a bit of the LA River, you have no doubt seen its many different landscapes and incarnations, I have found and stumbled upon many of these in my journeys to photograph it. Last week I was shooting for a client who needed some printed photos of the Sepulveda Basin to display in a nearby housing development. Most of the river throughout the Basin is pretty calm and flat-watered as it runs a fairly straight course to the Dam at the southeastern end of the Recreation area. Thick brush lines the banks and there is not really much to shoot.

Los Angeles River in Sepulveda Basin Recreation area

I parked near Balboa Blvd and ventured down to the river under the bridge. Walking about a hundred feet I heard some rushing water sounds and cut through the foliage where I came upon a small little waterfall gurgling amidst some rocks and tall grass. As far as I know it is the only bit of whitewater in the area and it made for quite a little tranquil scene. I sat there for a bit setting up some shots and taking in the atmosphere. Looking around it was hard to believe I was smack in the middle of the Valley with its more than fair share of traffic, congestion and blazing heat. Here it was cool, quiet and calm, so I sat there and enjoyed the respite.

I shot the humble little falls and then turned to my right and caught sight of a bunch of trash and garbage that had collected in the water just a couple of feet from the falls. A stark reminder of the urban runoff and human negligence that still affects the river, all 51 miles of it.


Notes on shooting: To get the shot of the small waterfall took a bit of doing. In order to get the blur of the water, I needed a tripod and a long time exposure. I usually carry a small table top tripod for just these occasions and gently set up the camera on it and balanced it precariously on the mossy rocks near the small falls.

A time exposure in the middle of the day is tough as you cannot usually stop down the aperture enough to let you use a longer exposure, even in the shaded area I was in. I wanted at least a one second exposure, but even at ISO 100, the longest exposure I could manage was ¼ second. A neutral density filter is the best answer in a case like this, but not having one, I used a polarizing filter, which will not really affect color, but will take off about a stop and a half to two stops from the exposure. That got me to a 1 second at  f/22, which did the trick.

I am a history geek and anytime I can shoot something that opens up a little window of the past for me is an exciting opportunity. Loving to shoot the LA River as I do, as well as water issues in general in and around the Los Angeles area, when I read about the discovery that a 100 foot section of the Zanja Madre had been discovered at a construction site in Chinatown, I knew I had to get myself down to the site and get some shots. The Zanja Madre or Mother Ditch, is a remnant of the 90 mile network of channels that first brought water to the early inhabitants of Los Angeles. Originally built in 1781 it was enclosed in 1877 and eventually abandoned in 1904.

 Historic Zanja Madre prepares for new home

I first made a few attempts to contact the local City Council member, Gil Cedillo. He had ingrained himself into the situation as only a politician can, and I thought he might provide some opportunity for me to get in. A vague maybe from his media person turned into nothing, so I found myself driving down to the site on Friday morning hoping to talk myself onto the site, my back up plan would be to try to shoot it from the Metro Gold line station that overlooked it. As luck would have it, I simply walked into the contractor’s office, showed them my press credentials and was promptly handed a hard hat, an orange vest and a waiver to sign. The day was looking up.

 Historic Zanja Madre prepares for new home

There was only a cameraman from KCET shooing as I slid down the beveled sand embankment to the brick cylindrical brick pipe that lay at the bottom of the unearthed dig. Workers were in the process of cleaning out the pipe of its 110 year old accumulation of sludge and sand. Included in that mix was an assortment of old glass bottles, mostly in fragments, but at least one still whole. The plan was to remove about a 42 foot section of the pipe and transport it to the nearby Metabolic Studio for safekeeping. One end of that section had already detached from the rest of it, but the other end had to be sawed off in order for its removal to be possible.

 Historic Zanja Madre prepares for new home

I got there just as the sawing was finished and the last of the old sludge was removed and so was one of the first to be able to look down and see the cleared interior of the pipe in over a hundred years. Obviously an empty pipe is not the most exciting site in the world, but other than being able to play peek-a-boo with the KCET cameraman at the other end, it was a real thrill to see a true piece of history restored to its original state.

 Historic Zanja Madre prepares for new home

Here comes the bad part. The next day a crane came by to remove the Zanja, the plan was to place a series of hammocks under the pipe and lift it to a waiting flat bed truck. Various groups including FoLAR, thought the idea of trying to lift a 200 year old brick pipe might not be such a great idea as the only thing really holding it together was 200 year old cement and mortar. But in spite of the warnings, the plan went forward.

 Historic Zanja Madre prepares for new home

Saturday morning the truck arrived, the hammocks were placed under the pipe and it was lifted onto the truck, so far so good. But the support on the truck was not good enough and around 2pm the pipe caved in on itself and fell into pieces.

 Zanja Madre lays broken

The current plan is to try to piece it together brick by brick and restore it to its original shape, but its original condition is lost. The history of water in LA is the history of LA itself, and the Zanja Madre was truly the Mother that fed the city. William Mulholland’s first job with the LA Water department was tending the Zanjas as a Deputy Zanjero (water distributor) before going on to become the leading force in bringing water to Los Angeles. I will post updates as to what happens to the Zanja Madre and any plans for the remaining portions of it left on the construction site. An exciting moment for me, a real disappointment for history!

I have been photographing the LA River for about 6 years now and never in that time have I gone to see where it begins. That would be in Canoga Park where two channelized streams converge, Bell Creek from Simi Hills in the West and Arroyo Calabasas from the Santa Monica Mountains in the South. Their meeting forms a short flatiron shape with Canoga Park High School sitting atop it and laying back to the West.

The beginning of the Los Angeles River at the confluence of Bell Creek and Arryo Calabasas in Canoga Park

I finally paid my visit there a couple of weeks ago and stood on a short bridge looking down on the confluence of the two channels. The day I was there the wind was howling down the channels, blowing leaves and grit all over and ripping off palm fronds from the trees and scattering them out on the streets.

Most of the shooting I do of the river is at the soft-bottomed spots along the Glendale Narrows, which is full of vegetation, and the wide channel under the bridges near downtown. It is s strange feeling to see the humble beginnings of the river here in this strange little area, completely concreted over.

The beginning of the Los Angeles River at the confluence of Bell Creek and Arryo Calabasas in Canoga Park

Behind me a bull dozer was pushing some dirt around to be used for some final landscaping for the entrance to the LA River Bikeway, a project which when finished looks like it will span the entire 51 mile distance from here at Canoga Park to the river’s mouth in Long Beach. I’ll have to come back with my bike when it does.

A few weeks ago I posted a picture of the river taken from Vernon with the downtown skyline in the background. This photo was taken upstream at the northern end of the Glendale Narrows and shows the skyline from the other direction. It was taken with a 200mm lens from the bike path along the river. There are several locations along the bike path where you can line up the river with the skyline and get quite a dramatic shot when the light is right. I never liked how the original looked and recently redid it to capture more of the mood I felt when looking at the river the evening I took the photo.

Glendale Narrows at the Los Angeles River with the downtown skyline

The vegetation you see in the river are islands that run along almost the whole stretch of the Glendale Narrows which is soft-bottomed. In these islands there are a good number of people who live there, at least part of the year, making their home in makeshift encampments amidst the privacy of the overgrown brush and trees. Several years ago during a FoLAR river cleanup, I stumbled upon one of these encampments and met a young and very pregnant woman who was sitting there waiting for her partner to return with food and supplies. She seemed quite comfortable living there and I think I was more taken aback with the situation than she was.

I’ve wondered what the dangers are of living on one of these islands during the rainy season. It’s one thing to feel the rain starting to come down and know the river may start rising soon, but what if the rain is much heavier further upstream and the river starts its dramatic rise before you know its coming. Just last week I saw on the news some people and their dogs being rescued from a tree they had scampered up to escape the onrushing river, so I guess the answer is you don’t ever really know when the water will rise and it is very dangerous.

I was walking on the Sixth Street Bridge the other day to go shoot some pictures when I stumbled upon this tent with a homeless person living in it. I have seen many homeless living down in the riverbed, some under the bridge and others tucked away in the flood channel alcoves just above the river. They have bikes and protective tarps and even laundry hanging outside their abodes. They are semi-permanent homes for these people. The feel somewhat safe down there and the cops and other patrols generally leave them be. But I have never seen anyone living on top of the bridge before, right over the LA River, right there in the shadow of the downtown skyline.

 Homeless tent with LA skyline

This guy isn’t hiding or even pretending to be subtle about living out in the middle of this public space, he has pitched his tent right out in the open where thousands of cars pass by daily on route between downtown and East LA. Many police cars and other official city vehicles also regularly drive by and there he is, quite the juxtaposition with the downtown skyscrapers and bank buildings. Kind of a remarkable photo to me!

I was going to write a longer post about my love affair with the historic bridges of downtown LA, but I decided to hold off until another time to bend your ear about their history and design. I really just wanted to post a photo I took a few years ago and recently updated, of my favorite bridge, the 6th Street Bridge.

All the downtown bridges evoke another time in this city, a time when the bridges were a central part of it and downtown was a vital centerpiece of life here. Things seem to be moving in that direction again, but that gritty and moody urban landscape, the city that served as a background for so many Raymond Chandler stories and film noir movies is long gone and never to return.

6th Street Bridge

I read all those novels and saw all those movies and loved every minute of them. When I took this photo a few years ago, I thought I might have captured a little of that mood – the distant car lights on the dark and deserted bridge might be Philip Marlow or Humphrey Bogart driving their ‘36 De Soto across the bridge in the middle of the night on the trail of a hot lead.

That’s the way I see it in my world, but I’m a sucker for this stuff, what can I say!

I have recently started updating some older photos that I have taken, giving them a face-lift of sorts and seeing what I night have left out the first time. The shot below of the river flowing through the City of Vernon is one I just finished. Sometimes when I live with a photo for a while I start to see things I didn’t initially see when I first took the photo. I hope you like it.

I photographed in Vernon for a while as a personal project a few years ago. It is a strange place, as you might imagine from a city that boasts as its slogan: “Vernon – Exclusively Industrial.” Evenings and weekends the town is deserted and lends itself very nicely to moody, atmospheric industrial shots: old rail yards, water towers and other cool places.


That work has gotten a fair amount of attention, probably because no one else has ever taken many photos down there. Recently the French town of Vernon had a festival and celebrated by having a photo show and exhibit (including my work) of other towns around the world named Vernon. The Vernon Chamber of Commerce’s new directory will feature four of my images, including this one, on its cover.

You can see some of the previous work I did and what I wrote in a post on my Citizen of the Planet site –

I’ve been exploring parts of the river a little further south than I have in the past and recently had the chance to shoot an old railroad trestle bridge down in South Gate. It is a wonderful looking bridge that is covered with graffiti and rust and cuts a diagonal swath across the river and bike path. On the east side is an old trailer park with manicured lawns and residents who look like they have been there a long time and like it.
Train trestle bridge over Los Angeles River

The other side is more industrial and aside from an occasional cyclist or jogger, is pretty deserted. I was shooting there at sunset, something I have done at many locations over the years, but this place felt a little more sketchy than usual. I didn’t feel any better when I heard several gunshots coming from up the river a bit, right between the bridge where I was shooting and where my car was parked. Visions of my lifeless body splayed along the riverbank, a tangled mess of cameras and straps filled my mind as I wondered what to do.

I have to admit my heart was racing quite a bit as after what I hoped was a prudent period of time, I slowly crept back along the bike path to my waiting Prius, a great little car, but quite the sore thumb when it comes to empty industrial areas. All was well and I lived to shoot another day.

If you have ever walked along the Glendale Narrows, one of the few soft-bottomed sections of the river, you might have noticed water gurgling up from the concrete banks that line this section of the river and forming slippery little puddles and patches of algae.

Groundwater bubbling up through paved banks of the Los Angeles River

These little water fountains are the reason the river bottom was left in a more natural state and not concreted over by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers back in the Thirties.

Along this stretch there is a very high water table and because of that it was determined that it would be impossible to seal the concrete over it, the groundwater, as we see, is forcing its way up and through the concrete banks. Lucky for us as we get to see a more natural river along with all the plant life and wildlife,

 Groundwater bubbling up through paved banks of the Los Angeles River

The squiggly white lines you see on the top of the bubbles is actually the light reflecting off the water over a ¼ of a second exposure which it gives it the look of an out of control doodle from a white pen. When shooting water it is always fun to play with either very fast exposures (1/1000th of a second) or in this case a longish exposure. Both portray the water in ways that our eyes are not accustomed and because of that make it more interesting to look at.

If you have ever seen the LA River after a heavy rain you will never forget it. A few years ago I photographed it after a rainstorm and was lucky to get there just as the sun peeked out of the clouds and illuminated the banks of the river with a beautiful amber glow. The waters were still raging and some smart ducks waited patiently along the banks for the turbulent brown water to subside.

Los Angeles River during rainstorm

To learn more about this image was taken click here

Glendale Narrows, Los Angeles River

The LA basin is an alluvial floodplain, water cascades down mountains, hills and storm drains causing the waters to rise quickly and dramatically. It is an amazing site to watch, but make sure to keep a safe distance as each year there are local news stories of people and dogs being rescued from the torrential waters that flow swiftly down the channelized corridor to the sea.

I recently went back there to shoot a more tranquil view of the same scene to contrast with the rain scene. As you can see, quite a difference in water level and temperament.

The last few posts had several images from the soft-bottomed stretch of the river along the Glendale Narrows, so I thought I would go for major concrete this week. The first image was taken during last April’s LA River Photo Adventure tour from the Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge. It overlooks an old auto scrap yard that never seems to change and makes a nice foreground to the river and mountains.

Auto parts yard near Cesar Chavez Ave along Los Angeles River,

The second image was taken in 2008 from under the 6th Street Bridge just at the entrance to the ramp the film crews use to access the river. Back then the downtown portion of the river was lined with Graffiti and seemingly covered every inch of the river’s banks. It has since been painted over. Just a couple of weeks ago one of the graffiti artists saw this photo and contacted me to see if I had taken a photo of his work which was just a bit to the right of where this photo was taken, but unfortunately I had not and his work is apparently lost for the ages.

FoLAR's Tour of the Los Angeles River


I got to spend last Sunday leading a merry group on the bi-annual LA River Photo Workshop I lead for the Julia Dean Photo Workshop (soon to be the Los Angeles Center of Photography). William Bowling from FoLAR (Friends of the Los Angeles River) joined us as our expert guide to river history and science and always we had a lot of fun, took a lot of great pictures and ended up exhausted after our ten hour journey. This year we had a little more adventure then we planned on when we almost got arrested for getting a little too close to the railroad tracks near the 7th Street Bridge, but we sweet talked our way out of incarceration or a hefty ticket and left unscathed but forewarned.
Read more, see more pictures…

I was very excited that I had the chance yesterday afternoon to photograph close up, not one, but two Great Blue Herons. Probably a pretty geeky thing to say, but I have been trying to for a long time to get some intimate photos of these skittish creatures. The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) can grow up to 54 inches in height and has a wingspan of up to 79 inches, and when it flies it has an almost a prehistoric pterodactyl like look to it as it lumberingly spreads its massive wings and slowly launches itself into the air.

Great Blue Heron
To learn more about how this image was taken, click on image

It has a graceful glide once airborne, and you can usually get some nice enough shots of it going up and down the river if you have a long lens and some patience, but I have always found them elusive when it comes to capturing them just hanging out. The two I came across let me get within 10 feet of them and I was able to get a good number of frames off before they got bored with me. These were along the Glendale Narrows and you can usually find them there or at the other soft-bottomed stretch at the Sepulveda Basin where I have read they have a nesting colony.

Great Blue Heron

One of my favorite photos of the Los Angeles River was taken on one of my very first visits to it. It was shot just south of the Los Feliz Blvd. bridge and looks north up the river. A small hill in Griffith Park rises in the background and a deep blue sky and bright green foliage serve to make it a nice colorful photo, but it is certainly not a great photo. What makes it special to me was the wonder I felt at seeing this part of the LA River for the first time, an almost bucolic setting with Blue Herons, Cormorants and Mallards settled in amongst the wiry brush that juts up and out from the river’s islands and banks.

Los Angeles River, Glendale Narrows

Many photographers know you can form an emotional attachment to a photo based on the experience you felt at the time you took it. It might be from the obstacles and challenges you had to overcome in order to capture the image, or it could be the long journey you had to trek to find the location. For me, it was the feeling of excitement in knowing I had found a new and fantastic subject to photograph, a place I had never really known about before or ever had the chance to explore.

 One of the things I love about teaching photography is helping students capture that feeling of wonderment and translating it into a great photograph. But it can be so frustrating to look over a beautiful and moving scene, get all excited about taking a photo of it, and then experience the disappointment when it doesn’t live up to expectations.

The problem is not the lack of some innate ability to capture the feeling of the scene, it is the lack of understanding of the tools that enable one to do so. I don’t teach students how to take a great photo, I teach them how to make one. A big difference that was taught to me by some of the most talented photographers I have known and had the pleasure to work for.

For more info about how thi was taken, click on image
For more info about how this was taken, click on image

I recently went back in an attempt to capture a bit more mood and drama of that original photo, I always knew the location had more potential to it and wanted to see what I could do. This time I felt I was much better able to portray the serenity and calm of the location by shooting at dusk and with a long exposure that shows the movement of the water. The point is that I always have to be  learning too.

I launched this website to showcase photos of my favorite subject, a place where I consistently experience the inspiration and excitement that I want to put in my pictures. We tend to want to shoot the most in places where we feel the most when we shoot there. That is what the LA River is to me. The diversity of scenery and the extraordinary changes the river is undergoing make it the perfect place to photograph and visit time after time.

I also started this site to share my photographic experience and knowledge with others (getting old has to be good for something). I will share the stories of how I took the photos, the settings I used and why I think a photo works and in some cases why it didn’t work. I will take you with me to see the many faces and moods of the river and hopefully inspire you to visit there and make great and inspirational photos for yourself.

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