California dreamscapes
California, USA


Wildly diverse terrain and landscapes that shimmer with stories told and untold thrill OutThere’s Creative Director Martin Perry as he sets out to commune with some of the Golden State’s most spectacularly untamed locations. This is California from its best angle.

This story first appeared in The California Cool Issue, available in print and digital.

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Desert song

It’s hard not to be excited, whether you’re a photographer or not, by the prospect of exploring the awe and majesty of the Death Valley landscape in the northern Mojave Desert. Such is its sheer scale and drama it was one of George Lucas’s favourite locations for his Star Wars movies, and its iconic status saw it immortalised by Anton Corbijn on U2’s seminal The Joshua Tree album cover. So setting off to a place of such otherworldly renown was both exhilarating and a little intimidating. Would I be able to capture anything close to some of the astounding images I’ve seen of this heavily photographed place? I needn’t have worried. I came back with many more shots than I have space to share here. And my visit coincided with a series of storms which, combined with the light at the end of the May afternoon, created one of the most dramatic sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.

Thrill tide

I’d been told the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the Southern California coast is home to 27 different species of whales and dolphins, so I hoped I might see some on the ferry from Ventura Harbor to Santa Cruz Island. Despite several attempts, I had never yet managed to get a decent photograph of one. With my longest lens attached to my camera and shutter speed set to 1000th of a second, I sat poised to shoot at a moment’s notice. And suddenly the otherwise sedate boat ride became some of the most exhilarating minutes of my life, as I gazed in wonder at these impossibly fast swimmers chasing alongside us, while pelicans dived like living spears into the sea.

Muted palette

An unusually wet couple of seasons on the Channel Islands’ Santa Cruz Island had created a blanket of green and gold grasses, peppered with a multitude of delicate wildflowers. These are favoured hunting grounds of the habitat’s abundance of birds and island foxes. I used a 70-200mm telephoto zoom to enhance my control in framing this softly undulating landscape and pick out details among the delicate colour palette created by the overcast conditions.

Cinematic vistas

It’s no accident so many films are made in California. There can be few places on the planet with such diversity of photogenic landscapes. These range from mountains and rivers to 840 miles/1350km of coastline, farmland, redwood forests and of course desert. These lands have not only been used to tell stories, but also lived their own. Everywhere you look, it seems, is another location rich in textures, iconography and meaning. I wanted to try to tune into this mystique and capture it with my own eye. Wandering the Ventura River Preserve with no distractions and nothing but my camera for company I asked my surroundings to talk to me. I captured these two photographs after a full hour just sitting and looking, my camera idle by my side. This for me is one of travel photography’s true joys. It allows me to be quiet and present in the presence of nature. And for its wealth of unspoiled, uncrowded natural majesty, California is somewhere I just can’t get enough of.

Photography by Martin Perry