Hawkins Photo Alchemy

Photography by Joseph B Hawkins, Jr.

"Alchemy" - A Power or Process of Transforming Something Common Into Something Special


Wishon Dam (National ID # CA00411) is a dam in Fresno County, California in the Sierra National Forest, in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. It impounds the North Fork Kings River to form Wishon Reservoir.The earthen and rockfill gravity dam was constructed in 1958 by Pacific Gas and Electric Company with a height of 260 feet and a length of 3,330 feet at its crest.[4] Wishon Dam and its companion Courtright Dam, which stands about five miles to the north, along with other smaller auxiliary gravity dam structures, are elements of PG&E’s Haas-Kings River Project.Courtright Reservoir serves as the upper reservoir for the Helms Pumped Storage Plant. Wishon Reservoir is the lower. During times of peak demand for electricity, which is also when it is most expensive, water is drained from Courtright Reservoir, run through the 1,212 MW Helms Power Plant and emptied into Wishon Reservoir. When demand and prices for electricity are low, water is pumped from Wishon Reservoir to Courtright Reservoir using the power plant‘s reversible turbines. Helms Power Plant is 1,000 feet (300 m) underground in a chamber carved out of solid granite at the north end of Wishon Lake. It is similar to Southern California Edison‘s Eastwood Powerhouse near Shaver Lake, which is also a pumped-storage plant. The reservoir Wishon Dam creates, Wishon Reservoir, has a maximum capacity of 128,606 acre-feet.[4] PG&E maintains Lily Pad Campground with 15 campsites on the southern shore, and recreation includes fishing (for German brown, rainbow or Eastern Brook trout), boating, camping and hiking.

IDEA AND PLANNING: Every project begins with a plan or idea. Mine was to find a location near enough to my home to be able to reach with less than an hour’s drive and would provide an interesting foreground and a view of the southern sky for Milky Way visibility. Pine Flat Reservoir located on the Kings River in Central California near Fresno California fit the description and I hoped it was far enough out of town to minimize the city light pollution.  

LOCATION SCOUTING: With the idea in place a little reconnaissance was in order. Using the PhotoPills app during a daytime drive I was able to search and discover potential vantage points overlooking the lake from the north side and was able to use another great map app Gaia GPS on my phone to pinpoint the locations so that I could easily return in the dark of night to the precise location

Planning a Milky Way Image Capture

Planning a Milky Way Image Capture


With everything I was planning i decided to use  three camera setups. First, was my Canon 5DIV and 16-35 2.8 – III which I used to frame the scene of the curve in the river and the trees in the foreground and mountains and sky in the distance. Set at 16 mm, f2.8, ISO 1600 and 30 sec exposure. Using the built in intervalometer I let it run a couple of hours capturing the still images as well as creating the time-lapse video below, and my favorite image of the night.

The second setup was using my Olympus EM-1 M-III with the Olympus 7-14 2.8 lens mounted in the Move-Shoot-Move star tracker. I acquired the start tacker last fall but have not had much chance to use it. The idea of photographic while tracking with the rotation of the earth allows for longer exposure time, greater light gathering and less noise. This remains a work in progress as I learn how to set and adjust the tools. I am still learning how to use this tool. Some of the images during the day and those from McKinley Grove were with this camera.

The third camera was my Olympus OM-d EM-1 Mark II – which was pointed in the oppisite dicrection pointed north and from it I creasted the Start Trails photo.


We left the house around early afternoon and arrived at the planned location around 4pm allowing time to scout the area around the lake. Using Photo Pills I checked out angles and times for the best place to set up. There was NO moon that night so it was going to be very dark once the sunset so i had to pick a location that was going to be safe to walk to for battery changes in the middle of the night.


This was quite a project and it required more tools than I have ever combined before.

·      Lightroom, for basic photo organization and editing

·      Photoshop, used mostly for compositing foregrounds and sky’s and a little bit of spot removal

·      Topaz Denoise AI – for noise reduction

·      NIK Color Effects Pro 4, for color and tonal adjustments

·      Starry Landscape Stacker – to layer multiple images to reduce noise in the night sky

·      StarStax – Star Trails  


This project was very rewarding. I learned moretricks and techniques, had a wonderful and therapeutic experience, came out with a few images I liked and wet my appetite for more -Stay tunned !!

The next plan is for Courtright Lake once the forest service opens the road wich is still closed as of today.

Happy Trails  – The Photo Alchemist

Joseph Hawkins

Click on Photo Below to view Gallery


Check out previous posts:

Tuolumne River – White Wolf to Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne River – White Wolf to Tuolumne Meadows

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Pine Flat Lake at Night

Pine Flat Lake at Night

PINE FLAT LAKE AT NIGHT Sheltering in place and social distancing continues. As is likely true for many of us we have had to find new ways to spend our time, hopefully in a constructive way.  I have taken the time to improve my photo skills studying and practicing...