Photographing Fog, Mt. Tamalpais

A nice piece in DP Review on Nick Steinberg’s work photographing fog in the San Francisco area.   These images have a magical feel but you can also tell how much thought went into the compositions. I’ve included a few shots below.  Here’s a bit on how the magic is done:

When the fog rolls in, they make their way to Mt. Tamalpais, which sits at 2,572ft above sea level. This unique vantage point gives them the opportunity to photograph some amazingly beautiful conditions. With the help of an ND filter and exposure times sometimes exceeding two minutes, Nick is able to capture the fog waves as they make their way inland.

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Nick’s web site has a lot more and the images are larger:  http://nicholassteinbergphotography.com

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On this shot, you can see the Transamerica pyramid in the distance:san-fran2

This final image shows how long Nick’s exposure times are. The image shows a car light trail from one car (as I see it) going down-mountain. Technically everything is perfectly thought out and visually there are all kinds of surprises within a lovely composition.fog3

 

 

Photographing Bluff Cove

Palos Verde Peninsula is truly one of the overlooked wonders of LA County. People think of it as an area for rich folks (if they know it at all). But there are a pile of spots along PV Drive that are amazing photo locations. Just head south from Riviera Village on the Drive and once you start up the hill, take a right on Via Corta/Via Almar and continue down till you get to Paseo Del Mar.

Getting There

As you drive along Paseo Del Mar, the road heads up hill and at one spot there’s an area with no fancy houses on the right side. Usually you’ll see lots of cars pulled over. The spot is popular with surfers, especially in the morning hours. And that’s when I visited a couple of weeks back.

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Bluff Cove — notice the section of cliff that juts into the ocean

The path down to the beach

This bend in the path is the turnoff to one of my fav photo spots.

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The path down is steep here. But luckily there’s a rope that helps ensure a safe footing. Shooting the area in morning light definitely helps and the ocean mist gives a nice bit of diffusion.

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Part of the fun of Bluff Cove is trying to capture the denizens of this ocean world in action and in composition.

This spot also works for those who like to shoot abstract texture.

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I didn’t get enough for ground interest in this view up the coast (see below) until I slowed the shutter speed. I didn’t bring the tripod but going hand-held seemed to do the job:

Looking north 1/25 sec

Looking north 1/5 sec

And, or course if you’re getting some nice surf coming in, you want to capture the moment of impact in a way that works in composition:

 

Final Central Coast

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Moonstone Beach morning

My final day involved some early-ish morning shots at Moonstone Beach, the Central Coast mood is best when the mists are all thick. Then, after picking up an exquisite coffee cake from Linn’s Bakery in, driving (and stopping) and driving home to LA.

The coast from Cambria to Morro isn’t as dramatic as the wilds of Big Sur. But there are unique photo spots here if you keep your eyes open. And that’s what photography is after all, open eyes.

Shoot Location, Just North of Cayucos

In fact, a few miles south of Cambria, I noticed a large car pull-off area. I had planned to spend an hour or two exploring new photo spots in this section of coast. And this pull-off had a long apron of dry grassland leading down to a beach. Suddenly there’s an adventure.

For those interested in this spot, the pull-off is about a mile north of Caucus, and right at the “Welcome to Cayucos” sign:

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Here’s the street level view:

At Welcome to Cayucos Sign, a surfer spot

A pleasant morning on the Central Coast. No place you have to be. And the thought comes, let’s see this place fresh, as photographer with camera. I walked down the dirt steps and entered into the dry field.

Beach, Cayucos Sign Viewpoint

Just down from the pull-off

And at first you just want to breath in a place, get the smell of the grasses and the ocean spray. Listen to the insects in the grass. And if you’re in the moment, you may  even sit down in the grass and take it all in. Why not.

Beach, Cayucos Sign Viewpoint

Textures of grasses

Walking the field, you start to see what makes Cayucos Point appealing.

Beach, Cayucos Sign Viewpoint

At Welcome to Cayucos Sign, a surfer spot

“Who are these men; what are they after,” the seals asked themselves.

Seals and Cormorants

After Cayucos, it’s just a short jump to get to Morro Bay and it’s famous rock. This pull-off on the north side is my favorite view of the rock.

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Once you get to Morro Bay, the highway heads east to San Luis Obispo, past Pismo Beach, into wine country, west of Solvang, the mock Danish town, and all the way home.

Bay North of Gaviota

The unusual step architecture of the rock beach attracted me. I decided to go abstract.

Lower Central Coast: San Simeon, Cambria

Once you leave the highlands of Big Sur, the highway eases its way into flood plane and the eastern hills soften. The light is thick golden syrup, the hills rusty gold, the ocean deep, deep blue. This is the Alice in Wonderland that is San Simeon, the Hearst Castle. But our focus remains the lovely shot locations available on the coast.

Just another unmarked pull-off. It was a bit north of the elephant seal sanctuary and San Simeon. This is the classic  landscape of the lower Central Coast. For this image, I was drawn to the mossy rocks in the foreground and the surf — and seagulls huddling away from the blasting wind.

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Just trying to stay warm

By 7:30 the wind is so penetrating that tourists are stopping at the elephant seal sanctuary, getting a shot or two and jumping back into the car.

The shots below are taken from just south of the San Simeon turnoff. A windsurfer would say that the wind is blasting. But no one should be out with this much wind at low tide.

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Elephant Seals to San Simeon to Moonstone,  Cambia

The Golden Light is something the gulls can appreciate.

Elephant Seals to San Simeon to Moonstone,  Cambia

Moonstone Beach, Cambria

Moonstone Beach, west of Cambria, is a treasure most tourists don’t find. It’s a great spot to catch the sunset. And having 30 mph winds only adds to the appeal.

Elephant Seals to San Simeon to Moonstone,  Cambia

Elephant Seals to San Simeon to Moonstone,  Cambia

OK. How can I not use the cute seal shot. Who cares what the New York art establishment thinks anyway.

And just above the heads of our two seal buddies, the sunset goes on. Not sure why a sunset would distort the sun this way but it’s a nice effect.

Elephant Seals to San Simeon to Moonstone,  Cambia

San Simeon

And while we’re here, lets take a peak at Hearst Castle. What a strange treasure: the grounds, the banquet hall and pool, the art culled from around the world, and the house that kept being built and rebuilt. And ultimately, the sinful side of San Simeon with 1930s Hollywood coming up to party and copulate with their own kind — like an American version of the upper classes going to a country house for a hunting and shooting weekend.

Hearst is worth a day or two at if your photographic proclivities run towards Old School opulence. Below, the unwashed masses confront Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

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Next: A Final Look at Central Coast

Hidden Sur II

Big Sur can be dark and dangerous when dank weather settles in. You get the thick fog hovering, giving a desolate feel to the high cliffs.  On a sunny day, it’s all smiling beaches and seascapes. The beach at Point Sur Lighthouse is a bit of both.

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This spot is about 15 miles south of Bixby Bridge. An impossibly desolate beach, some of the most desirable real estate on the California coast. One technical note: Set up the composition but time the shutter to sync with the lighthouse light’s rotation.

Just down the road, I noticed this view. No real stop. This one, just past the lighthouse to the south, was a good reminder to me of the possibilities of black and white.

This is about a mile before the lighthouse where the Little Sur River flows in. But we’re not through with the  big-shouldered cliffs as we head south.

Just past Nepenthe restaurant the cliffs are high enough so you can view almost forever. Can you see Morro Rock and Santa Barbara down there? No. But the Henry Miller library and bookstore is just down the road. Even this remote section of the state has literary history. Henry Miller wrote a book about Big Sur as did Kerouac and you can feel that boundary breaking mojo at the library (and spiritual home) of Miller.

Afternoon, Big Sur from Below Pfeiffer State Park to San Simeon

This shot was made at 2:45. Not always a great time to shoot. But having the sun lighting up the fierce blue ocean never tires.

Normally we’d stop at Julia Pfeiffer State Park, about an hour south of this. But on a Friday in late June, that park is like the 405 on a Friday. So we keep going. South towards our next stop, San Simeon. Or at least the motels just south of there.

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But there’s still a bit of cliff we can use to get a classic Sur photograph. This spot isn’t on the maps either, just a pull-off towards the end of the mystery coast.

A more wide angle pic of the same section of road:

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Next stop: San Simeon, Cambria, points south

 

Road Tripping Through Big Sur

Geographically Big Sur is just a wilder, more pristine extension of the Monterey Coast. But Big Sur is unique, one-of-a-kind, one of the great road trips in America. Yes, it can be a pain to drive, especially on summer weekends. But get past the quick pull-off and click mentality of most drivers, treat the different spots as the kick-ass photo locations they are, the trip becomes a feast for the photo enthusiast.

From the start of my Carmel photo tour, I had been planning to finish the time off by heading home down Highway 1 through Big Sur and the Central Coast instead of going the fast way, the 5 Freeway. So I spent two days driving the coast route, digging into locations I’ve shot before, but never fully experienced. My guess is I will be back soon for a longer stay. Big Sur is a visual feast.

Monterey Peninsula, Below Garrapata

This location, just a bit below Garrapata State Park, has the ecosystem of the Monterey Peninsula but the same cliffs you see further down in Big Sur.

The richness of the ecosystem has a lot to do with the tidal pool landscape. A spot like this one (below) is a perfect micro-system for plant, fish and animal life. I tried to capture that feeling visually by attending to the wave action as I timed my shots.

Monterey Peninsula, Below Garrapata

I noticed this spot (below) while driving down to Bixby Bridge with Mark Common and other folks on my Creative Academy photo tour. Mark pointed out a large field that slopes down to the sea just north of the bridge. He mentioned that this field of native grasses is used for car commercials that are going for the mythic California coast look. So I stopped on my way home for further exploration. (Thanks Mark.)

Below Garrapata, Above Bixby

Car Commercial Time… I used local adjustments in Lightroom to give a softer texture to the grassland and more Clarity to the harsh cliffs.

You can see Bixby Bridge in the distance. Here’s a variation on that theme.

Below Garrapata, Above Bixby

Both images are f/22. I wanted the whole DOF to be sharp. But this portrait mode image is at 300mm and uses the window in the sea cliff to anchor the image. I shot several of this view but went with the one that has the seagulls riding the ocean breeze.

Bixby Bridge and Old Coast Road

Bixby Bridge from Old Coast Road

One of the classic Big Sur photo locations. This location is a left turn of Hwy 1 (when going south) onto Old Coast Road just before crossing the bridge. Another location choice is just to use the pull-off just right of the bridge. But this location gives a nice mix of foreground and background.

Next Installment: Entering the Wilds of Big Sur

Just below Bixby

Just south of Bixby Bridge, the Big Sur cliffs begin to dominate. And when the fog gets thick and cold, you feel you’ve entered the wild again.

Putting the Composition Elements Together

In my previous post I talked about the idea that a photographer should start out at a new photo location by looking at the deeper visual elements that will make an exciting image. Foreground and background elements, leading lines — all the physical structures of a place need to be recognized and then framed, adjusted (by adjusting your position or zooming), and shaped into a composition.

Here’s some shots I took at a recent trip to the Monterey Peninsula that show someone adjusting the composition elements for effect. Most of these are just jpgs out of the camera.

1. A classic shot as the eye might see Garapata.

Garapata State Beach

Garapata State Beach, 47mm, 1/125 sec, f/9

The foreground flowers  and curve of the coast line frame the sea and the main rock formations line up in the distance.

2. Wide angle version.

Garapata State Beach

Garapata State Beach, 24mm, f/14, 1/125

In wide angle, the foreground takes precedence and the rocky pillars seem too far off. Also notice that the two large rocks in mid-ground have more visual overlap, that’s not ideal.

3. Changing the foreground element, emphasizing wave impact.

Garapata State Beach

Garapata State Beach, 70mm, f/22, 1/8

Here the foreground element on the left leads the eye in with help from the crashing wave.    And with the extra zoom makes the massive rocks the center of attention. I’ve also slowed the shutter speed a lot. It gives the wave crest more motion and the crash of waves against the rocks has a more visceral feel.

4. Emphasizing the impact moment.

Garrapata State Beach, First Morning

Garapata State Beach, 96mm, .8sec., f/22

Here I’ve zoomed in big time. These two rocks have become foreground and the two sets of rock that are further back are closer. But the main visual you notice now is the motion blur of crashing waves. In fact, at .8 sec of shutter speed, the entire sea is like a boiling caldron.  And if I hadn’t been using a tripod with a cable release,  the rocks and coastline would have been a blur as well. Note: getting shutter speed this slow during the day requires a neutral density filter, a closed down aperture (f/22 here) and low ISO.

5. Going for balance.

Garapata Beach

Garapata Beach, 79mm, f/9, 1/640 sec.

The slow shutter speed in #4 is an exciting look but may emphasize the turbulent wave action a bit too much. So much of the frame is a blur that the viewer may not appreciate the full landscape.

Here, we’re keeping two massive foreground rocks close enough to anchor the frame. And the wave crash has lots of drama. But the rest of the frame has lots of visual elements to keep the eye exploring. Of course, I’m not sure which version I like best. Each has a mood all it’s own. But I’ve played with the dynamics of foreground, layout, composition and shutter speed. And I have some decent stuff to choose from.

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