The top tip for taking good photos is to first go to a place that has a great scene almost everywhere you point the camera. Then point the camera and shoot. Goat Rock Beach on the Sonoma coast a couple hours north of San Francisco is one of those locations. In the winter there can be high surf from distant storms even when the local temperatures are mild. This past week temperatures were not bad, in the 50s, but strong winds whipped up foam on the breakers.
I’ve been to San Gregorio beach often enough to know the drill. You walk out on the bluffs two or three hours before sunset and shoot down across the beach towards the sun. The sun is still high enough to be out of the picture, but there is sparkle off the water and beachgoers in silhouette. This attractive combination of subject and lighting occurs only once in … well, actually, it’s every sunny day. Afternoon haze on a recent day added an extra measure of dream-like atmosphere.
Cameras built into cellphones have improved substantially. My Droid X phone captures 8 megapixel images through it’s tiny lens. Since I almost always carry a pocket camera I haven’t used the cellphone camera very much, but recently I decided to give it a try. One advantage of the cellphone camera is that the pictures can be sent out as e-mail directly from the spot where you took the picture. We’ve all seen the blurry products of those attempts, but it seems the problem is not always with the camera. In good light, they can take respectable pictures.
I like to photograph flowers in a natural setting to preserve the feeling that the flower is part of nature, rather than extracted as part of a bouquet. The problem is that the background can be confusing, so much so it’s hard to identify the subject. Recently I brought along some black background material to experiment with isolating flowers. Perhaps predictably, the photos are more dramatic and, yes, less natural.
For those of you too young to know about film, let me tell you it’s nasty, and you should stay away from it. Some of us, however, have images captured on film that are worthy cleaning up for the digital age. Here we’ll deal with the three most common problems: dust, color shifts, and grain. It’s painstaking work, but those old photos can’t be replaced, and modern digital tools help a lot.
When returning to well known places you are often greeted with something new. Goat Rock Beach, a California coast park, is a surefire photogenic place, but last weekend we encountered the additional floral splendor of fields of cow parsnip on top of all else. So what to do with so much cow parsnip? Closeups of cow parsnip in repose? Cows frolicking amidst their namesake parsnip? One must do one’s best.
I’ve been traveling in the Southwest for several weeks during the past month. In due time that will yield a number of posts here, but returning to Northern California requires revisiting some sites on the home turf. California Highway 1 follows much of the central coast and is one of the country’s great scenic drives. Usually I point the camera towards the ocean, but doesn’t do justice to the whole experience. A few days ago we drove to Pacifica, just a few miles south of San Francisco. It’s a good place to start capturing the inland side of the Highway.
Point Lobos is a photographers garden of images: surf, coastal bluffs, tide pools, mysterious trees, sea life, wild flowers, and people soaking in the sights. We’ve featured Point Lobos in past QSA blog posts. One stretch of ocean front has rock strata sculpted by the sea. I find the sculpted patterns fascinating. There are a few concerns with lighting, texture, and composition.
Here we are at Bean Hollow State Beach on the California coast north of Santa Cruz. It’s about 50 degrees (F), which Californians consider cold, but those in truly cold climates consider warm. It’s a chance to take winter photos that look frigid, while actually not frosting one’s telephoto. Surf breaks on a rocky outcrop near a small sheltered beach. There are many seagulls, but seagulls are notoriously poor at taking direction.
Here are two panoramic images of Point Lobos. In one image there is a single person in the image, so tiny relative to the image size that it’s hard to see on the small version here. The figure is near the left edge, about half way up the frame. In a second image I’ve used Photoshop™ to erase the person. The question is which image is better. A person gives scale to the landscape, but many nature photographers seem to prefer images having no sign of humanity.
Autumn foliage peaks on the central coast of California in early December. The upscale town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Clint Eastwood was once mayor, is always photogenic and the fall colors and strong light make it even more so. Carmel is a good place to get coffee, since that is about all that the average person can afford in that town, but that suffices to walk around and take in the scenery. Capturing good photos is then an exercise in composition and lighting.
Sometimes pictures seem to have potential, but they are missing something. Then the hope is that a Photoshop™ adjustment of contrast or saturation will summon up the spirit missing from the photo. When simple adjustments fail, the next step is to use filter plug-ins to apply a heavy had to the scene. I’m a fan of the Topaz Labs plug-ins, and among the most extreme of those is Adjust > Spicify. The results can be, well, awesome.
Shooting into the sun produces dramatic photos, if you are careful. The sun has to be partially blocked by something, usually a tree. Even so, the lens sometimes adds “interesting” optical effects. The star-like rays are a product of the lens diaphragm that controls the aperture, with a ray for every corner where the leaves of the diaphragm meet. That’s a nice effect. Prismatic effects produce odd splotches of color, and those are not so nice. A little Photoshop® retouching helps a lot in those cases. This photo of the dahlia garden in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens shows the benefit.
California’s Highway 1 has a reputation as one of America’s most scenic highways. It lives up to it. A week ago we drove on the highway with visiting friends, and I took this spliced panorama a few miles north of Jenner. Jenner is small town at the mouth of the Russian River, about two hours north of San Francisco. The bright violet flowers are from wild pea plants, and the trumpet-shaped yellow-orange ones are bush monkeyflowers. I think the latter flowers are supposed to resemble a monkey’s face, but in all the times I’ve looked at them I’ve never been aware of a monkey looking back.
Sometimes the world does not give you much to work with. It’s a good principle in travel sequences to include photos that show what it was like to be at the location. However, while large waves out in the ocean may be integral to the site, photos of distant waves lack drama … and just about every other aspect of photo appeal. One trick is to show tourists reacting to the attraction, rather than just the attraction itself.
Spring flowers are slowly appearing on the California coast. On the beach near Monterey recently I found purple sand verbana. (There is also a yellow variety.) The purple variety it quite striking close up, but the flowers are so small it can be missed. Each flower in the cluster is about a quarter inch (6 mm) across. As the season progresses the flower becomes common in the sand along the coast.
Larger version “here”:http://quickshotartist.com/blog/images/250.jpg
Point Reyes National Seashore is well known for scenery, wildflowers, and summer fog. The park is about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, either following California’s Highway 1 up the coast or winding through the hills west of the city of San Raphael. During a recent visit there were wildflowers, but not much sunshine. Hence the adjusted goal was to taken moody pictures of gumplant. I ended up merging four images into a wide angle view.
click to enlarge
An elfscape is a natural scene on a small scale. They contain a number of miniature plants and usually a piece of wood or a tree trunk. While having an actual elf in the scene is desirable, it isn’t mandatory. However, the scene must appear to be compatible with the appearance of some such wee being. There are more elfscapes in the world than one might think. Look for them in forests and above the normal high tide mark on beaches.
Vermont autumn forest, c. 1975
The specific problem with the edge of the bluff at Point Lobos was getting it in focus, but let’s step back from the edge for a moment. Point Lobos State Reserve is on the California coast about two hours drive south of San Francisco. Point Lobos deserves its proclamation as “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” It eases the burden on photographers in one sense, because almost no matter where one points the camera one is likely to get a remarkable picture. However, it raises the bar in terms of measuring up to the splendor presented.
It’s springtime! Well, in some places it is. In other places it’s on the way. Spring brings fields of flowers, and with that a photography challenge. It’s nice to show the location of the flowers with a long view that shows the lay of the land. It’s also good to show the individual character of the flowers, rather than just a splotch of painted color. A way to accomplish both in one image is to make a spliced panorama of a close view and a distant view.
Pomponio Beach is featured in a previous post about a gray-day panorama. Beaches are good places to find texture patterns. The margin between sand and conventional grasses is often home to an interesting assortment of plant life.
I was trying to get the woman walking down the path, the kite fliers flying kites, and a car traveling on the road, all captured for a stitched panorama. It’s important to have a zone at the frame edges with no motion so that the stitching can occur successfully.
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