40 Photos – 1-20




Myst - Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Myst, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

I went out for a sunset shot at McClures beach in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. It was the dry season, but there were some rare clouds and (even more rare) rain in the area. As sunset approached, it began to clear up. I was ready to photograph what I had planned when a bank of fog moved in and that was the end of that plan.

I had to go to my backup plan. (Always have a backup plan since nature does not often cooperate despite how carefully you study her!) I knew about this row of trees on the way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse so I headed over there. I’ve been waiting for about 3 years for a misty foggy sort of day where I could capture this scene with some extra depth and light that you don’t see without fog. Here it is! If you try this or any photo with a vanishing point, walk the entire length of the path looking for the best composition. It took about 15 minutes of fiddling around to settle on this composition. This was halfway down.

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 24-105L @ 58

3.2-second exposure @ F16 (For big DOF with low light)

No filters

No polarizer

ISO 50

Small Slik Sprint mini tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol grip ball head

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

I don’t use polarizers. They create unnatural looking skies, though they can help if you wish to reduce glare on foliage or if you wish to see into the water.

 

45 Seconds at Hanalai, Kauai

45 Seconds at Hanalei, Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii

First morning light at Hanalei is one of the most spectacular events to witness anywhere. I feel it rivals Yosemite or practically anywhere I’ve seen personally or in photographs. Sunset is impressive too, though you don’t get the light on the mountains as you see here. It is like a warm Yosemite with an ocean! These mountains are as high as El Capitan and almost as steep. The trade winds moved the clouds quickly and created changing light conditions on the 4,000 ft. (1300+m) rain sculpted mountains which are tied for the rainiest on the planet with a place in India. You must see this location for yourself.

I used a very dark Lee Big Stopper filter to allow a 45-second exposure to show the dynamic nature of the light here. The sculpted cliffs are etched perfectly in relief by the low sun angle. The long exposure also reduces distractions so the pier and mountains stand out better. Another nice thing the long exposure did was eliminate people from the scene. There were paddle boarders, surfers and some boats moving through this picture, but as long as they kept moving, all was well! And it was.

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 24-105L @ 35

45-second exposure @ F11

ISO 160

Lee Big Stopper

(10-stop square very dark glass filter for long exposures)

(It’s hard to get due to limited production. Order and wait!)

2-0.9 (3-stop) Lee soft edge neutral density graduated filters

Lee foundation kit filter holder (3-slots) All full!

Lee adapter ring to fit my 77mm lens to the holder

No polarizer

Small Slik Sprint mini tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol grip ball head

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

IMPORTANT! If you get a filter holder, you must get the ring adapter that screws into your lens and fits onto the adapter!

 

 

 

 


Faultlines - Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County, California

Faultlines, Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County, California

The sun set over the Pacific Ocean just north of San Francisco, illuminating ridges formed by the San Andreas fault, which slipped 16 feet at the surface in 1906. To put that amount of movement in perspective, the recent Japan quake moved the surface by 15-20ft in the tsunami area and 9 inches in Tokyo, with bigger slippage far offshore. This fault slipped 16 feet right through the city in 1906! Tokyo suffered its destruction in 1923. Geology is often the main subject in landscape photography.

Mt. Tamalpais is the ultimate place to watch the sun set over the Pacific. It is over 2,000 feet (700m) almost straight down to the shoreline (to the left) and there is commonly low fog drifting though. The San Andreas fault and erosion have created lots of undulations and photo opportunities. It runs left to right along the ridges just in front of the darker and forested Bolinas Ridge in the distance and has rippled the surface on either side. In the summer, there is fog that drifts under this location creating surreal scenes of impressive beauty. By the end of May the green grass dries up and turns a golden brown making this place look completely different. It will be brown until December when the rains return. It can be very dangerous to shoot here in the summer because the dry grass becomes slippery and as you can see in the foreground, the slope is about 45 degrees with nothing to stop you from sliding 1000 feet into a gully or a tree at the bottom. Don’t attempt to cardboard slide here!

This exact composition in the summer half of the year features undulation of golden brown grass.

The contrast was extreme on this evening so I had to be careful to get the grads into the right place to keep it looking natural. The sky turned an unusual color which I would not believe if I had not seen it myself. When shooting, look closely at the sky and then at your viewfinder to see how accurate the photo is to reality. Remember it so that you can accurately process it later. In this case, the grass in the viewfinder after the shot had a bluish tint to it that I did not see with my eye, so I desaturated the blue channel in the grassy areas to get it back to a natural green color. Remember that! The camera doesn’t see what you see, so pay attention so you can restore the photo to the way it looked.

 

Canon 5D mark II

Canon 24-105L @ 58

Live preview

1/6-second exposure @F8

ISO 200

1 Lee soft grad filter (4×6 inch, 100x150mm, 0.9, 3-stop)

1 Singh-Ray 3-stop reverse ND grad filter (4×6 inch)

No polarizer

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop cs4

Small Slik Sprint mini tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head

 

The Monolith of Grey Whale Cove #1, San Mateo County, California

The Monolith of Gray Whale Cove, San Mateo County, California

A low tide at sunset during the winter time is the only time when this view can be seen. Usually this spot is underwater and large waves pass through submerging this place under 5-10 feet of water.

Grey Whale Cove, about 15 miles south of San Francisco is an excellent beach for photography and for just playing around. The afternoon was warm and sunny (75f, 24c at sunset) with some high thin clouds which are best for creating those brilliant red sunsets just as the sun drops below the horizon. This evening did not disappoint.

Be careful what you ask for. I was hoping that these clouds would make a red sunset, but the camera had a a tough time with it. It was incredible to see with my own eyes but the reds were getting blown out and the clouds were turning into red featureless blobs. So I had to move into a position where I was pointing away from the sun and then angle two strong grads over the bright parts on the left side of the sky. Most of this picture is not darkened by the grads at all, just the bits in the upper left. And even then, I had to de-saturate the reds a bit in Photoshop to get back the detail. For that, I selected the red parts of the sky, feathered the selection, chose the red channel in Levels, and lowered the brightness. The sky appeared a bit more red than you see here, but I wanted the detail in those beautiful clouds to be preserved.

There are lots of elements here which are difficult to capture all at once. Winter is the only time to get light on the monolith rock because the sun sets to the left of the frame. During the rest of the year, the sun sets behind the rock, making it a silhouette.

Another element is that it must be a very low tide in order to get into this spot because there is a cliff right behind me with limited escape options. (This was a 0.0 ft. tide. A minus tide might be even better but the waves would not be there.) And this beach has a habit of sending sleeper wave surges in every 5 minutes or so. Just when you get used to the patterns of the waves, a surge will come in and the water will rise about 4-5 feet even with small waves. So you have to look constantly out to sea to give yourself time to prepare for a quick escape! Other elements include that I waited for the sand to become reflective to capture the reflection of the monolith rock and for a wave to strike the rock. And I wanted to show a big wave in the distance. About 20 seconds later, that wave flooded this area quite efficiently I must say!

 

Canon 5D mark II

Canon 17-40L lens @19mm

0.3-sec. exposure @F10

ISO 100

ND Grads 0.9 + 0.9

No polarizer

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop cs4

Small Slik Sprint mini II tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head

 

 

Garrapata Surf #1 - Big Sur, California

Garrapata Surf #1, Garrapata State Park, Monterey County, CA.

Large waves were rolling the cobblestones on the shoreline of Garrapata State Park, Big Sur, California. There was a big storm and fortunately it began to clear out right at sunset. The rocks made a lot of noise as they rolled around. It made me feel like the entire beach of rocks would slide right into the ocean, carrying me with it! Be careful on this beach because it is easy to break an ankle and it is not easy to get back up the cliff even with a good ankle though anyone in decent shape can do it with care.

Some rocks are easy to step on and some are slippery but of course, the closer you get for a better shot, the more slippery they become striking the sea stacks instead of the cliff in front.

Give yourself time at difficult locations like this. It’s difficult to set up the tripod. It’s easy to lose a filter or even a lens. Be mindful of everything you do.

Canon 5D with Canon 17-40L @35

1/5 second exposure @F16 with 1 LEE ND grad 0.9

Lee filter holder

ISO 50

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

Small Slik Sprint mini II tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head

Keen water shoes

 

Winter Light at La Jolla

Winter Light at La Jolla, California

A winter storm whipped up the ocean and spread a glowing light onto the sandstone for just a few minutes before the rain hit. I got close to show detail but had to run away with each crashing wave.

A winter storm clearing at sunset is often the best time to photograph the seascape on the California coast. Only for a few hours after a storm do you get these fluffy clouds which light up nicely about 15-30 minutes before sunset. After that, the skies clear up fast leaving you with ‘good’ weather, which is usually boring for photography.

Storms pass by quickly here. So when the cumulus clouds are thick and fluffy like this in California, they often disappear at sunset or the light fades into a color-less sunset. You need the light coming down through these sorts of clouds for the best effect. In general, the thicker the clouds, the higher the sun must be for the best light. When the clouds are thin and high, the best time is right when the sun is at or just below the horizon. As a result, thin clouds can be a brilliant red, while these clouds are more yellow and orange and the light fades before they turn red. Still, always be on the lookout for a surprise!

A note about intimate landscapes:

Some photographers specialize in intimate landscapes. That is when they spot an interesting area within the bigger landscape that could make an artistic photo all by itself. It could be a twisted log with moss on it, or a small part of a stream with a nice rock with water flowing by. I think that a good landscape with a big view like this should include an interesting intimate landscape within it. I always look for intimate landscapes which I can incorporate into my big landscapes. In this case, I’m fascinated by the sandstone formations in La Jolla near San Diego. They come in a variety of shapes and colors. The problem is that they are carved by the violent pacific Ocean, so a close view of the intimate landscape usually comes with a price. A very wet and salty price! But it’s worth it as long as you are properly prepared with a plastic bag, or an umbrella!

 

Canon 5D mark II

Canon 17-40L lens @30mm

1/4-sec. exposure @F11

ISO 100

ND Grads 0.9 + 0.9

No polarizer

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop cs4

Small Slik Sprint mini tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head

 

Light Force - Pfeiffer State Beach, California

Light Force, Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California

Ocean waves, mist and light streamed through the portal in the Tafoni sandstone formation on a clear and warm January evening at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur.

Even though Pfeiffer beach is a winding and vertically oriented 45 minute drive south of Monterey in Central California, there were about 20 photographers out here trying to capture this famous place during the Dec.-Jan. window when the sun streams through the opening at the best angle. So it’s difficult to come up with an original view. But I noticed how all the other photographers had their tripods set up in more or less the same place. So I looked around for a different perspective.

After a bit of browsing on Flickr and elsewhere on the internet, I have yet to see a shot that intentionally uses a reflection on the glossy sand of low-tide. I’m sure there is something like this somewhere though. There are just too many people shooting this place. So I had to add something extra that may not be original, but at least have it be as good as I can capture it.

The streaming light is especially good when it’s sunny, but it’s best with a bit of mist from the huge waves behind the rock wafting through the hole. On this evening, the slight breeze alternated between onshore and offshore. When it would blow offshore, the mist would get sucked through the hole and the light-beam effect would disappear. Also, big waves help add drama, especially at low tide when the water barely comes through. At high tide, it’s like a water cannon and those rocks are slippery so watch out!

Every once in a while during this extra low tide sunset, it would almost appear as though the light were striking the water, sending spray away from the impact point. So I waited for that moment. I chose to step back far behind the other photographers, to include some reflected light off the sand at low tide to add that extra element of interest. This is why it’s best to stand and meditate on what you see in front of you, without the camera to distract you.

I met some nice people on the two evenings I came here. It was clear so this is the best place to go when there is no drama in the sky. On both evenings, I talked with many different people. It seems like this happens a lot. It’s fun to talk photography and everything. Photography is a social sport!

 

Canon 5D mark II

Canon 24-105L lens @105mm

1/10-sec. exposure @F14

ISO 100

No ND Grads (though when you are closer, inverted grads help with the bright water!)

No polarizer

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop cs4

Small Slik Sprint mini tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head

 

Oceanside Surf - Oceanside Pier, California

Oceanside Surf, Oceanside Pier, California

A lone surfer in between the waves below the two towers near the end, waits for a wave as people stroll the pier watching a brilliant sunset at the end of a winter day.

It had been clear all day, and by noon, things were looking grim for any sort of a dramatic sunset. I watched the satellite movies during the day and this very same band of clouds had set in over the ocean but too far out to be very interesting. Most of the time the weather and winds come from the west off of the ocean. But about 3 hours before sunset, the band evaporated and reformed almost overhead. Then I started to worry whether it would stick around for sunset. Of course there is always something to worry about, right?

Fortunately, the cloud bank held up all the way to sunset and I saw this amazing scene just as I had hoped. It extended to the north and south for at least 50 miles in each direction. The cloud was moving quickly but it was evaporating on the backside and forming on the front side, so overall it remained in place for hours. It was still there at 10 at night!

Needless to say, it’s very important to study the clouds to know whether it’s worth your effort to drive 40 miles as I did to capture this scene. I watched the cloud and realized that it would hold in place despite how it seemed to move so quickly.

 

Canon 5D mark II

Canon 17-40L lens @28mm

1/4-sec. exposure @F11

ISO 100

ND Grads 0.9 + 0.9

No polarizer

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop cs4

Small Slik Sprint mini tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head

 

The Spectacle - San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge

City Lights, the Spectacle, San Francisco

This is a small portion of an big panorama with a 500mm lens that is 16,000 pixels tall x 80,000 wide = 1.3 gigapixels.
The Making of a Gigapixel Image

SmugMug’s Chris MacAskill wanted a print for the SmugMug headquarters that would be similar to a photo I had shown him earlier, only much bigger. He wanted a huge panoramic version of the classic view of the Golden Gate Bridge with the Transamerica building seen through the north tower. Chris was thinking of printing it somewhere in the range of 30-36 feet across at close to 240DPI. I thought it would be a decent amount of work but not a big problem. After all, multi-gigapixel photos are becoming more commonplace every day and stitching programs have improved a lot over the past few years.

Most gigapixel images are created during daylight hours or well after dark, conditions at which the light is consistent over dozens (or hundreds) of shots. However, I wanted the entire panorama to be captured during the rapidly changing light that occurs just after sunset.

After a few quick calculations, I figured that I could get the resolution Chris wanted from about 30-40 portrait photos across and a few rows high with my Canon 5D MK II and about 25% overlap between photos. I decided to rent the Canon 800mm F5.6 lens for 10 days from BorrowLenses. They were very helpful and even had a drop-off point near my house in Walnut Creek. I thought that 10 days of shooting would be plenty of time if I could choose a window of opportunity where there would be plenty of clear days with good visibility. It was November, and the California rainy season was about to begin. But with no storms in sight and a warm spell in the offing, I rented it.

I wanted to create an image that would look like a single photo taken during those few moments about 15-20 minutes after sunset where the softening natural light is about equal to city lights. A photograph created at this time will not have blown-out highlights but still have the glowing atmosphere of a nocturnal view. Since I needed to shoot over 30 photos per row and at least 3 rows tall, I knew that it would take several favorable days to shoot them all. This is because there are only a few minutes with good light after sunset and each exposure would take around 7-12 seconds to shoot. Also, with the 800mm lens you have to be very precise about focus, and setting the focus using the Live View feature adds even more time to each shot.

 

Bucket_Panorama_Platform

A stable platform in my back yard for creating a gigapixel image

 

Shooting

 

I was excited to begin. The next 10 days looked clear and warm, so off I went. The first obstacle was how to stabilize this huge lens during 10-second plus exposures when it is perched on the side of a hill exposed to the strong ocean wind. The Golden Gate is the easiest place for wind to pass through the California coastal mountain range so there is a lot of it passing through. The sturdiest tripod is no match for these breezes so I had to come up with another solution.

I headed over to Home Depot and bought a 1-inch thick rounded and sanded plywood wheel which is about 18 inches in diameter. It is about the size of a very large pizza. Also I bought a plastic bucket, a short 1×4 and some thin wood shims. The idea is to place the plywood onto the bucket and then put the lens on the plywood. Then it’s easy to rotate the lens right and left. The bucket is low to the ground and very stable even in high winds with the big lens on it. Also, it’s easy to level the entire thing using by moving it in the dirt until your line of sight across the wheel is level with the horizon. Clamps attached to the bottom of the bucket holding 1x4s as tripod legs can help on hillsides.

I cut the 1×4 to a length of about 6 inches and cut notch in the middle so that the end of the lens would rest in the notch. That stops the lens from rolling around. The thin wood shims are then used to raise and lower the camera side of the lens. With this setup, you can shoot an entire row, insert or remove some shims and then shoot another row. Additional 1x4s under the camera can move it up a lot if you are using a wider angle lens. Experiment with this before you head to your location! You won’t have time to fiddle around once you’re there.

For the first 10 days, visibility over the bridge was perfect but it was hot and the city lights twinkled. Twinkling when viewed through 800mm of lens makes the entire frame flicker back and forth as though you are looking into a swimming pool on a slightly breezy day! During daylight it’s not too bad because you can have an exposure time of 1/100 or less and straight lines may look a bit wavy but at least they are sharp. At night, an 11-second exposure with the heat shimmering will make the entire image soft in a similar way to what you might see on a long exposure of ocean waves. Even my morning shooting suffered from atmospheric distortion. After 10 days with that magnificent lens I had nothing to show for my efforts! Needless to say I was a bit discouraged. However, I am not one to give up easily, so I borrowed a friend’s 500mm F4 and a 1.4 extender for a total of 700mm of magnification. Fortunately, he was very patient because it took about 4 extra weeks to get the images I needed. I didn’t have a long lens because I don’t shoot wildlife. Now I have a super sharp Canon 400mm F5.6, which works well on these big panoramas and is lighter and less expensive.

Eventually as November wore on, the weather cooled, the atmosphere stabilized and the twinkling was dramatically reduced. Cool cloudy days with no fog are best for long exposure large panoramas at dusk.

Next, my hope was to get through the entire panorama with consistent light. I made a total of about 20 trips to my spot before I had all the images I needed. All of the images used to make the final panorama were captured on five of those evenings.

There were other problems during shooting besides the atmospheric distortion. First, the focus. The city is far behind the bridge, so when I was shooting the towers in front of the city I had to stop down to about F29 and focus extra carefully in between the towers and the city and do an extra long exposure for that one image. On the left side of the panorama were some foreground hills, so I had to refocus there too as well as every few shots throughout the panorama because the focus ring might get moved just a little. Most images, however, were made at F11. This allowed me to get enough depth of field to keep everything sharp. The DOF at F8 (the optimum setting) is too shallow and would cause something in each frame to be out of focus. I kept the exposure time down to 11-seconds by using an ISO of 200. There was very little noise in the final images.

The next problem is that I had to come back on successive days and pick up where I left off. So I had to arrive well before sunset to set up and practice what I was about to do. It’s easy to not be perfectly aligned with a row from the day before. If you are not perfect all the way across then you don’t get enough overlap for stitching.

The other big problem is that the light was changing quickly and was different from the far left side to the far right side. This is a very wide-angle image so this is to be expected. If you attempt a gigapixel image at dusk, study the direction of how the light fades and start shooting from the darkest areas and move towards the lightest. By the time you get to the lighter areas, they will be closer in brightness to the darker side. This way, the overall image will be more evenly lit.

 

Processing

 

I brought the images into Capture One, a RAW processing program. It has lots of settings which allow you to gain a little extra dynamic range and still have the image look natural. I collected the best images from all the shoots into one folder and carefully adjusted them for brightness and color. This went fairly smoothly, though there were a few images where I had to dig deeper. The idea is to have all the images be the same brightness.

I saved each one as a JPG because I knew the final file would be huge and I don’t have a super powerful computer! Also, I didn’t touch the JPGs until I had created a PSB file after stitching. TIFF files have a size limit of 4gb and the 16-bit file would be 5gb. I ended up creating an 8-bit file but I kept it in PSB format, anyway. I did not lose any information as would be the case if I edited the JPGs directly. And JPG files have a 30,000 pixel width limit.

Originally I planned on using the highly rated Autopano stitching software. It did a great job until it reached areas where the bridge cables were in front of the bay water. One cable or a bridge section looks like the next. The stitching software became confused no matter how I adjusted the settings. I auto-stitched as much as I could and then I stitched the remainder of the image (about 50%) manually in Photoshop. Fortunately there was plenty of overlap and after about 80 hours of work, the image was completely stitched. Yes, 80 hours!

After stitching, I went over the TIFF image carefully while viewing it at 100% magnification. I cleaned up any bad pixels or stitching errors. There was a bit of noise in some of the darker areas so I used the Photoshop noise reduction and that worked fine. Then I looked at the entire image to make sure that the entire scene looked evenly lit. A few places needed to be brightened or darkened but the adjustments were small because I was careful when creating the first set of jpg from the RAW files..

The combination of the 500L lens and the 1.4 II teleconverter along with close attention to focus created a final image which is very sharp. Most of the image needed no sharpening, though some areas were sharpened a bit just to get things as close to perfect as possible.

The total amount of time I spent doing recon, 20 trips to the location, and post processing was around 160 hours. Was it worth it? Yes!

 

Details about the entire panorama:

 

112 11-second exposures (they were nearly all 11-seconds to keep the brightness of the city lights constant)

All shots were taken between 20 and 27 minutes after sunset on several nights over a 6-week period.

The final size is (13,423h x 80,540w, 1×6 ratio)

AutoPano stitching software to start, but 50% was hand-stitched

Canon 5D mark II with live view set to 10x magnification to help with precise focusing every few shots

Canon 500L F4 lens with 1.4 extender. A 400 F5.6 works too.

3 rows of portrait oriented shots with about 35-40 on each row

25% overlap on each shot

Refocus every 3rd shot with extra care on the towers and hillside to the left

Refocus on Bridge towers to make sure that every bolt can be seen clearly

No grad filters

No polarizer

No HDR

ISO 200 (to reduce the exposure time a bit but not too much to induce noise) ISO 160 or 320 might work better.

RAW files processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF files processed with Photoshop

Tripod – 1 home depot bucket with a circular 1-inch thick plywood board rotated on top to create panoramas.

 

 

 

City Lights, Alamo Square, San Francisco, California

City Lights, Alamo Square Painted Ladies, San Francisco

This is one of the most famous city views, Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies. If you’re going to shoot an overshot location, make it good!

At least 6 double-decker tour buses drove by in just the 30 minutes I was there. I witnessed hundreds of photos taken as I made mine! So in order to make an image that would stand out, I had to wait for a stormy day where the clouds (behind the camera to the west) would open up right at sunset to produce dramatic light against the clouds and cityscape. You should have seen the awesome sunset happening behind me! It was difficult to ignore it, but I wanted to show the city in a brilliant red light. It made a red stripe in the clouds and painted the cityscape in purples and other soft colors. A 1-minute exposure softened the sky and ensured that none of the people and dogs playing on the grass were visible.

There were many people walking right in front of the camera, but a long exposure takes care of that. Just make sure that nobody stays stationary for more than 10-seconds. I also made a couple of 5-minute exposures with the Lee 10-stopper (very dark slide-in filter) as the last rays of sun hit the city. No trace remained of the dozens of people and dogs walking and running around. While I was shooting, a guy from Holland walked over and we had a good time shooting and talking about things. It is amazing how photography can make instant friends!

This image is very sharp and you can read the license plates of the car in the driveway and see the photo hanging on the wall inside the right-most house. Also, you can see a poster for the (US Baseball) San Francisco Giants. This photo was taken during the series which they just won.

None of these houses are the location of the TV series “Full House.” That house is at 1709 Broderick Street! However, the cast was filmed playing around on this grass for some scenes.

It is hard to resist going right to the ocean (3 miles behind the camera) for seascapes when there is a good sunset, but this is the only way to capture outstanding photos of the cityscape. The best time is immediately after the sun sets. You get about 3-5 minutes of good light, so be ready.

 

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 24-105L @85 (with 10x live preview to get it sharp)

1-minute exposure @F8 (for the finest sharpness)

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm – 4x6in) 0.9

(2 grads would make light reflection echos)

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 50

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

Small Slik Sprint mini tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head

 

 

 

2010 World Series Celebration, San Francisco, California

2010 US Baseball World Series Celebration, San Francisco

On the way back home from a beach landscape shoot, I got stuck in bad traffic as I approached downtown San Francisco. It was so bad that I had to turn off my engine and just sit in 12 lanes of traffic. I was listening to the game on the radio and it was almost over. The SF Giants were ahead and I thought about the fireworks that go off after a victory. Then, I had this very shot in mind. I eventually worked my way over and exited the freeway and drove through some massive new buildings under construction and amazingly enough, there was a parking space just a block away. Some people were leaving early and I slipped into the open space. And the parking was free!

I made my way over to McCovey Cove, named after a famous and well liked first basemen. This stadium is built next to the bay near downtown close to the 10,500 ft. long Bay Bridge. So you have great views even if you don’t like baseball! There is even a platform straight ahead where you can watch the game for free through glass windows! People park their boats, party a lot, and wait for a home run to get knocked out of the park. They have big fishing nets to catch the balls. I walked around, knowing that the game was almost over. I found this spot which seemed compositionally to be good. I put on a single ND grad 0.9 (3-stop, 2 grads would make double reflected light effects) and took some test shots to get everything right. Finally, I heard the roar of the crowd and the fireworks went off and everybody went wild. It was thrilling!

I made several exposures and then got out of there as quickly as possible to avoid the traffic. The Giants won 11-7 in Game of 1 of 7 over the Texas Rangers. This is a single 2.5-second exposure. No HDR.

 

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40L @19

2.5-second exposure @F10

LEE soft ND grads (100x150mm – 4x6in) 0.9

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 160

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

Small Slik Sprint mini tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head

 

 

 

Mango Skies - Hapuna Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

Mango Skies, Hapuna Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

The ‘vog’ made for a perfect end to the day at Hapuna beach.

This was the view just as the sun touched the horizon at Hapuna Beach as the volcanic fog (vog) from Kilauea moved in on the left side of the frame. The vog turned the lower part of the sky a surreal shade of very light red compared to the usual blue you would normally see. I made sure to capture the sand at the most reflective moment to bring even more of the sky into the picture. Other than that, there was little drama involved here. In fact, it was so relaxing and perfect that I had to remind myself that I was shooting!

I showed this in the back of the camera to a curious person standing behind me. He said, “Wow, I didn’t see that!” That was an unexpected response since he was right there. I think that he missed this reflective moment while staring directly at the sunset instead of noticing everything. Photos can capture what a video or a direct experience can miss. The lesson here is to never forget that fact when you are out shooting!

Processing was super-easy. I left the colors alone other than selecting the reds in the sky and de-saturating them a bit to bring out more of the fine detail. The red was too intense. It took about 2 minutes to create a TIFF file!

Usually it takes about 10 minutes.

Hapuna beach is often rated as the #1 beach in the US, with perfect weather year-round, perfect sand and a water temperature of about 77 (25c) year round. Not too hot or too cold ever. The beach gets about 5 inches (12cm) of rain per year. It is a state park, so access is easy. It is also a great place to watch the sunset. Rain clouds are usually blocked by the twin 14,000 ft (4300m) volcanoes Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, clouds and volcanic fog (‘vog’) still wrap around them creating lots of thick atmosphere for dramatic sunsets.

 

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40L @17 (just a bit from the widest setting)

1/4-second exposure @F9

LEE soft ND grads (100x150mm – 4x6in) 0.9 + 0.9

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 100

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

Small Slik Sprint mini II tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head

 

First Light at Ahalanui - Puna, Big Island, Hawaii

First Light at Ahalanui, Puna District, Big Island, Hawaii

Ahalanui, on the Puna coast of the Big Island of Hawaii is home to an incredible volcanically heated hot pool with water that is nearly body temperature. It also has some excellent coastal scenery and large breaking waves. Sunrise is the best time to see the drama at its best!

It seemed like it would be an easy sunrise to shoot. Merely go around the hot pool, over the top of the rock wall blocking the ocean, and around to the cliffs and lava pools. However, the rocks are extremely slippery, and you don’t expect that when all of the lava is just a few decades old at most and very sharp. So, you walk along experiencing a reliable grippy surface and suddenly it is as slippery as ice! So if you go here, especially in the dark before sunrise, be careful!

The problem gets worse because I wanted to get close to the little reflecting pools in the foreground, but it was difficult to even move, let alone run from these unobstructed waves which pound this spot every 20 seconds or so.

The weather was warm and about as perfect as it can get, and this can lull you into a false sense of security. I mean, how can there be danger in such a paradise? Well, with no coral reef in front of many Hawaiian beaches, it seems like every 4th wave is a sleeper wave, so be careful photographing any non-reef beach. Seriously!

Anyway, even if you do not make it to the beach during the day (the hot-pool lifeguard has a bullhorn to keep people away from the waves), definitely visit this hot pool. It has an opening for the 78 degree (28c) ocean water to mix with the 94 degree (34c) hot pool water. Suddenly, the ocean water feels as cold as California! The breeze off the ocean is cool enough so that you can relax in the hot water without getting too hot. It is perfect!

 

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40L @25

1/6-second exposure @F10

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm – 4x6in) 0.9 + 0.9

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 100

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

Small Slik Sprint mini II tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head

 

Pololu Morning #1 - Big Island, Hawaii

Pololu Valley #1, Big Island, Hawaii

Rule #1. When you return from a trip, try to get a good idea of which version of a scene you like the most before posting! I usually try to get 4-8 good shots with a particular composition before moving on. Each wave will be different, and the light can change in just a few seconds. I have 8 versions of this scene and they actually look quite different.

When I say “good shots”, I mean that I will take a shot, look at it and delete it on the spot if I don’t like it. I think I took about 12 shots at this exact location and kept 8 for review later. Now I like about 3 of them. Actually, one looks better in the back of my camera than it did after I finished processing it. I even repeatedly looked at the back of the camera to try to get it to look the same on my Photoshop screen!

This one looks exactly like the back of the camera. That is good enough for me. I kept the default settings for the camera’s LCD screen just so you know. Also, after the shot, I often look at the photo and compare it to the scene in front of me, just to get an idea of how well it was captured. Of course, the real scene usually looks better, but not always. A dull scene may look more contrasty and interesting in the back of the camera than to your every own eyes seeing it for real. After all, the camera can not capture the same dynamic range, so it will look more contrasty in the camera.

The Big Island has a wide variety of climate zones and geological regions. Lava flows create lots of new land and those new areas are rough and sharp. Areas like this valley are on the older side of the island where the volcanoes are extinct and the land is being sculpted into fantastic forms by rain and waves. The 14,000-foot (4200m) Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes create rain forest upwind and barren deserts downwind. They can exist just 4 miles apart! The beaches vary from black sand, to white, golden, red and even green. It’s a photographer’s paradise, but the island is big and you have to do your research to find the best spots because much of it is barren and desolate.

To get to this location, you must get up well before sunrise (it’s not a sunset beach), drive to the tourist pullout and hike down a slippery 400-foot trail in the dark to get here in time for sunrise. It’s not a difficult hike during the drier part of the day, but one slip and your day (or vacation) is ruined! Also, this is a great place to spend the day, far away from civilization.

 

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40L @27

0.4-second exposure @F10

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm – 4x6in) 0.9 + 0.9

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 100

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

Small Slik Sprint mini tripod

Manfrotto pistol-grip ball head

 

Orbs of Mystery #1 - Mendocino County, California

Orbs of Mystery #1, Mendocino County, California

Could these cocoons have been left by extraterrestrials planning the domination of our planet?

Okay, well actually these 2-3 ft tall (1m) rounded rocks were embedded in sandstone layers. Then, as the soft layers eroded, the harder sections separated and were eroded by the sea into these round shapes. Some were round even while embedded in the sandstone layer, so they must have been formed and then were locked up in the layers and released in place in more recent times. So they have been eroded twice at least! I could not find out how they originally became round. Perhaps there was a river or they were on the beach and became encased in sand which turned to sandstone. Then the layer rotated almost 90 degrees and released them back onto the beach.

There are good explanations on the internet showing some of these rocks still embedded in the sandstone layers.

This is a -1.0 ft low tide, and I used the reflective water as best I could. A medium tide (+2/+3 ft (1m) is best here for showing the water moving through the many dozens of round rocks. It is called ‘Bowling Ball Beach’ but these are far too big to be rolled around by hand. Actually the smallest round rock is the size of a bowling ball. See the notes above.

There was a perfect medium tide at sunset on the three nights I was here, but not a cloud was in the sky. So I came out at sunrise when there were a few clouds. They were gone an hour later, so I lucked out!

These are similar to the Moeraki boulders of New Zealand, but there are more of them here and they are more densely packed. And they look just as good!

This beach is an easy 1/2 mile hike from a small turnout just north of Schooner Gulch. Once you get to the cliff, there is a path with wood boards tied together with steel cable. The hill has eroded under the last part of the ‘stairs’, so you have to climb down, almost like on a very shaky ladder!

 

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40L @19

5-second exposure @F14

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm – 4x6in) 0.9

+ Singh-ray reverse soft edge grad 0.9

(I’m not sure about the color cast of the Singh-Ray filter. I had to desaturate the blue channel in the sky to make it look natural. The sky looked too blue in the camera compared to my eye. Also, the edge of the grad is too hard, despite it being called a soft grad.)

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 50

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

 

Pinnacle Rock #3 - Point Lobos, California

Pinnacle Rock #3, Point Lobos, California

Point Lobos, at the north end of Big Sur just south of Carmel, California (100 miles, 160km south of San Francisco) could keep a photographer busy for months or even years. It’s a peninsula that has been sculptured by large Pacific waves over millions of years and the results are stunning. This is one of the western-most points of rock and is probably 50 feet tall at high tide. Sometimes waves wash over the entire rock and they did during a big set just after this photo was made. This is a wider view with more light striking the cliff face and sea than my previous attempt which is in the 2010 Nature Conservancy calendar.

The biggest hazard is getting low enough to have the tops of the rock rise above the horizon. Then you must literally hang off the cliff to get an open view around the right foreground rock. So the Gorillapod allowed me to lay on the rock and not fall in! Also, I had to wait for a seagull to land on the top of each rock, though I made some with no seagull just in case. In a big print, the seagull really helps.

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40L @21

1/4-second exposure @F11

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm – 4x6in) 0.9 + 0.75 (5 1/2 stops total)

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 50

Joby Gorillapod (flexible tripod so I could lay down and not fall off the cliff!)

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

 

Monolithic Light - McClures Beach, California

Monolithic Light, McClure’s Beach, California

Sometimes everything seems to come together for a brief moment. A lot of it is pure luck I say!

Yes, much of this is the result of good old-fashioned luck. True, I did plan to come here because it was raining and it looked like the storm would clear out (move to the left) just as the sun set (to the right). And I did know that the waves would be of a decent size. I also knew that the tide would be high and that this time of the year is when light strikes the monolith rock at a slight angle just as the sun sets.

However, I didn’t know that the pattern in the clouds would line up with the briefly appearing retreating lines of foam. I didn’t know that the waves on the right would momentarily appear in front of the newly opened red colored gap in the clouds. And I didn’t anticipate that the retreating dark gray clouds moving off to the left would provide some color contrast compared to the otherwise colorful scene.

When you add up all of the randomly appearing elements in this photo, they count for at least half of the total surface area in the frame. What I’m saying is that no matter how much you plan and think about what you hope to witness, nature is so random that you will always be surprised! And that’s half the fun, don’t you think?

 

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40L @17.5 (I never go wide all the way!)

1/5-second exposure @F14

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm) 0.9 + 0.75 (5 1/2 stops total)

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 50

Small Slik tripod with Manfrotto pistol grip ball head

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

Bare feet, no way to keep dry if you wish to get close!

 

Apparitions At Dusk - Sutro Baths, San Francisco

Apparitions at Dusk – Sutro Baths ruins, San Francisco

I thought I was alone at the ruins of the old Sutro Baths until I saw this picture in the back of the camera! I looked out and there was … NOBODY THERE! Were they ghost swimmers from the 1890’s?

Well, perhaps not!

I decided to take in the sights at the ruins of the old Sutro Baths, built in 1896 to be an indoor/outdoor salt-water pool and spa. It was 250×500 ft (80m x 160m) and could hold 3700 spectators and over 1000 swimmers. Google “sutro baths movie 1897” and go to videos for video footage from 1897! Yes, San Francisco was high-tech even back then. I do think that Edison’s copyright for the videos has expired by now though.

Anyway, I was thinking about some long exposures after I had photographed some big surf so I walked along the haunted concrete walkways crossing over what seem like ancient ruins. I made a couple of long exposures and as I set up for one last shot, a couple decided to plop right down in front. Rather than worry about it, I worked them into the photo by moving to the right far enough to get them separated from the dark background of the offshore rocks. That way they stood out well against the background. They stayed put for the entire time and 4 minutes later, I was finished. Another lucky break!

One big advantage in this place is that you don’t have to get model releases for ghosts!

 

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40L @20

4-minute exposure @F9

Hoya NDX-400 9-stop circular ND filter (very dark for long daytime exposures)

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm) 0.9 + 0.75

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 50

Small Slik tripod

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

 

 

Endless Sea #2 - Marin Headlands, California

Endless Sea #2, Marin Headlands, California

A series of huge storms ripped into California with winds so strong that on this day, I couldn’t even get near the beach to attempt any photography. The beaches were covered in foggy-looking banks of salt spray and the wind would cause too much camera shake even on a sturdy tripod. So I had to come up with something interesting from a high vantage point. Not an easy thing when you are known for getting into the water to catch a dramatic wave breaking on a foreground rock. So there better be some major drama happening to catch the eye.

It was frustrating because the light was awesome through the storm clouds and the sea was huge, with big breaking waves over the open ocean as you can see in the distance in the big version if you expand the photo by touching or clicking.

So, I walked around on the cliffs with the wind nearly knocking me over several times. I was looking for a small vortex behind a cliff where the winds are relatively calm but I can still get an open view. Also I was looking for a spot where the waves were breaking in a picturesque sort of way. Most of the coastline was just an area of frothing chaos.

I got to a point where I could see the Point Bonita Lighthouse and San Francisco and I saw a spot with very easy access on the well-used trail that leads to the lighthouse. So I hiked around the back of the hill and down to the open spot just before you go into the tunnel/cave that leads to the lighthouse. Hundreds of people walk by this spot every day but today there was nobody.

Amazingly enough, even though this spot is only about 100 feet above the sea, if you crouch down you can get inside of a 3-foot (1m) high invisible bubble of calm air. The drop off in front of this view is completely vertical and the wind (blowing directly towards the camera from below) comes off the water, and right over the top of you! If you were to stand up, you could easily get knocked over but it was so strange to be in this little calm bubble.

So, once I found the best spot, I set up with the lens perhaps 1-foot above the ground and then time the waves for the best effect. Sometimes bands of rain would pass through and I had to abandon my position to hide behind a cliff.

 

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40L @21

1/10-second exposure @F8

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm) 0.9 + inverted 0.75 to darken the bright water a bit

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 50

Small Slik tripod.

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

Sturdy hiking boots and umbrella

Plastic tarp and plastic bag to cover the camera

 

 

Santa Monica Spin #3 - Santa Monica Pier, California

Santa Monica Spin #3, Santa Monica Pier, California

This is the new wheel which was installed after the old one was sold on eBay for US $132,400 to an Oklahoma developer sight unseen! This is a very high-tech wheel with programmable lights that can create patterns and images. Also, it’s powered by the solar panels you see in front of the wheel.

The good news is that the wheel changes colors and patterns every few seconds. So every shot looks completely different.

The bad news is that you only get about 10 minutes where the light is even enough to get a decent exposure across the entire frame. That is the brief period when the lights are bright, but not too bright and there is light in the sky. The other bad news is that it takes about 7 minutes to fill up the wheel with passengers before it spins 2 or 3 times and then stops again. So you really only get a few attempts during the entire evening where the wheel was in motion and the light is good at the same time. Still, I managed to get a few nice ones!

The lesson here is that you need to observe closely and be ready to act based on the evidence you collect. To me, this image is how it felt to be there even though it lasted just a few minutes.

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 24-105L @40

4-second exposure @F13

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm) 0.9 (two filters would create reflections with these lights)

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer

ISO 50

Small Slik tripod with Manfrotto pistol grip ball head

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

 

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