Water

Golden Gate Bridge in Fog

Golden Gate Bridge in Fog

The graceful Golden Gate Bridge extends into the fog of a cool San Francisco summer evening

This is likely my last post from our California adventure this past summer. And, yes, I know that I’ve already posted an image of the Golden Gate Bridge. But, this one was beautiful enough that I couldn’t resist ending with it.

You see, I had already captured some pretty nice images of the bridge (Golden Gate Bridge and Summer Fog), but I had another image in mind. What I wanted to capture was a night shot of the bridge with a flow of traffic as one continuous light stream. We went to the parking area on the city side of the bridge and I actually found the spot that I needed to get the shot. Unfortunately, that location was completely fogged in and the shot I had visualized just wasn’t there that night.

So, I had to improvise. I began to scout around until I found another angle that would work. Although you can’t see the traffic flow from here, you can see the arch of the bridge deck as it spans San Francisco Bay. You can’t see the towers either, but you I love the way that they disappear into the gloom and fog above. I cranked up my aperture to f/22 to lengthen the exposure yielding beautiful, creamy water below in the bay and a lovely starburst on all the lights visible across the bridge.

All in all, I like the shot – even though it wasn’t what I had in mind originally. Enjoy.

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Golden Gate Bridge and Summer Fog

Golden Gate Bridge and Summer Fog

Fog rolls through San Francisco Bay and gently shrouds the Golden Gate Bridge

As a tourist, the negative about visiting the central California coast in the summer is that fog can hang around the coast all day long. As a photographer, the positive about visiting the central California coast in the summer is that fog can hang around the coast all day long. (See what I did there?)

As Pamela and I drove up the coast from Carmel Highlands to Napa Valley, we decided to stick to the coast road and go straight through San Francisco. Since it was Fourth of July weekend this was a risky strategy. As it turned out, there were rewards and penalties. The reward was a quick visit to the Golden Gate Bridge and a series of incredible images. We also got to visit a favorite park in the Marin headlands. The negative was a three-hour drive north from San Francisco that could have been only an hour or so. Oh well. The rewards outweighed the penalty but I’m certainly not going to complain about Atlanta traffic anytime in the near future.

We had another opportunity to visit the bridge later in our trip, but it turned out that these shots were my favorites. I love the vibrant orange paint on the bridge contrasted by the blue skies, white clouds, and sea-foam green ocean water. The Golden Gate is beautiful in just about any weather, but she was particularly pretty this day. Enjoy.

Pigeon Point Light Station

Pigeon Point Light Station

Pigeon Point Light Station as viewed from the north on an overcast early summer day

When we visited California this past summer, I took a ton of beautiful images. Now that I’ve developed such a backlog of images to post I’ll have to blitz through a few of these. Here’s an image of a lighthouse that I’ve photographed before. I’d still love to spend a few weeks on the California coast so I’d have a shot at capturing a lighthouse like this one with epic sunset light bathing it and colorful skies overhead. But, that’s not often to be found in the summer season when we are usually in the area. So, here’s a still beautiful version of the Pigeon Point Light Station. In early summer the coastal fog usually descends on the region yielding this beautiful, evenly lit type of image. Enjoy.

Summer on the Big Sur Coast

Summer on the Big Sur Coast

Wildflowers at your feet, seagulls overhead, fog clinging to the coastal range, and surf crashing below make the Big Sur coast a national treasure

The drive from San Simeon to Carmel should take two hours or so. In fact it’s an all day affair because you find yourself yanking your car into every overlook to drink in yet another incredible view. Just when you think it can’t become any more beautiful, it does – and often exponentially so. It’s just incredible how the combination of the coastal mountains, fog clinging to the coast, sunlight dancing in and out, wildflowers blooming, dramatic cliffs, and often the road itself can make a million different images, all unique and equally beautiful.

Such is the Big Sur coast. There are other beautiful drives in the world and I’ve been able to experience many of them. This may not be the most beautiful stretch of road in the world, but I’d say it’s in anyone’s top ten. It’s that dramatic and beautiful.

We were nearing Carmel Highlands where we would be spending the next couple of days when I noticed wildflowers filling the fields between the Pacific Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean. I just couldn’t resist seeing what the actual coast would look like the few hundred yards away. So, my long-suffering wife patiently picked up her book and encouraged me to take a while to go scout and shoot what I saw. Have I mentioned how patient she is with my photography addiction?

Fortunately there were some well-worn paths through the vegetation leading to different vantage points along the cliffs. Apparently, this location is a fairly popular area for hikers and people walking their dogs. It’s not hard to imagine why. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to hike while soaking in the views.

Unfortunately, I was so engrossed with getting to the vistas I expected, I totally missed the abundance of poison oak that was embedded in the vegetation – and I was wearing shorts. I wouldn’t find out for a couple of days, but this would turn out to be a big problem. I’m allergic to poison oak and ivy and I acquired the worst case I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t mean a few spots that turned into a rash. I mean my calves and lower thighs were covered in a rash that ultimately scabbed over and itched like nothing I’ve ever felt. I went through an entire bottle of poison ivy gel just trying to keep the itch under control. It took a full two months for the rash to go away entirely!

But even with the future onset of a nasty case of poison oak, the hike out through the brush was worth it. I rarely have one of these moments, but when the trail ended at the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, the scene literally took my breath away. In front of me stretched an uninterrupted view of the ocean to the horizon, blue sky, a golden beach, beautiful blue water and white foam intersecting with the coast, and a steep cliff side covered with native vegetation and flowers. It’s a scene that I can envision clearly as I write this post. It was beautiful and I took a few minutes just to soak it all in.

Then, I got to work. I moved up and down the cliff-top trail looking for a vantage point that captured as many of the elements of the scene as possible while still retaining a sense of composition that would fulfill my artistic vision. I finally found it in this spot. The view is north toward Carmel and captures all of the elements I described above. Patience added a small flock of birds lazily riding the wind down the coast and into my frame. It was a perfect moment in time for a landscape photographer – minus the nasty rash to come. But, all in all, it was worth it. Hopefully, this image and my words bring you a bit closer to that beautiful place in the world that is the Big Sur coast. Enjoy.

Pfeiffer Beach Sand and Rocks

Pfeiffer Beach Sand and Rocks

The purple sands of Pfeiffer Beach accented with stones worn smooth by ocean waves

As we made our way up the Big Sur coast I had several landmarks that I wanted to visit. I’m a bit of a travel nerd and do some fairly exhaustive research before our trips. One place that I had read was particularly beautiful was Pfeiffer Beach. I had also read that it is not an easy location to access or, at least, that it was not well marked.

That turned out to be the case. If there was a marker for the turnoff to Pfeiffer Beach I don’t recall seeing it. When we stopped for a quick lunch to take to the beach, the restaurant attendant just told us to “turn left at the first paved road after the bridge”. We did, and we quickly saw what ‘inaccessible’ meant. There was a road to Pfeiffer Beach, but it was a narrow tree-lined lane that was impassable for two-way traffic in spots. The beach was crowded as well. Near the beginning of the two mile drive, there were attendants controlling the flow of traffic into and out of the park. It was obvious why once we made it to the parking lot. There are precious few parking spots and the locals really don’t want visitors to block their driveways or clog the tight road.

Once we parked and gathered my camera gear and our picnic lunch, we made our way out to the beach. Once we had cleared the parking lot, it quickly became apparent why this is such a popular spot. Pfeiffer Beach is a sheltered, sandy beach at the base of some dramatic cliffs protected on the ocean side by large rocks undercut with arches. It may not be a great beach for surfing but it’s protected enough to be a great place to stroll, throw or kick a ball, or just sit back and watch the world go by. The only negative I could see was that the wind whipped fine sand particles readily. In high winds it seems that the blowing sand would be more than just a nuisance.

As we wandered about, children splashed in tide pools, dogs ran freely on the wide beach, and many people just kicked back reading and relaxing. In certain places on the beach, we noticed that the golden brown sand was interspersed with purple and black sand. It was fairly obvious that the sand was formed from rock formations on the cliffs above that were being worn down by the constant wind and rain. After a bit of research I found that the purple sand is caused by manganese garnet deposits in the surrounding cliffs. Apparently as they erode they wash down from the cliffs and mix with the regular beach sand. The result is some pretty cool looking abstract images arrayed on the beach, especially in areas where tide pools interact with the purple deposits. The picture above is an example of what some of the beach looks like. Other large sections are just normal golden brown beach sand much like the other beautiful beaches of the Big Sur coast.

Pfeiffer Beach is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. Even with the crowded, cash-only parking lot, it’s still a beautiful place in this world. Enjoy.

McWay Falls

McWay Falls

McWay Falls empties directly into the Pacific Ocean along the Big Sur coast

I’ve seen much prettier images of McWay Falls, but this one isn’t bad. The scene I would have loved to capture would have been at sunrise or sunset with dramatic, pastel-colored skies instead of a contrasty, blue-sky day. But, when you only have one bite at the apple, you make do with what you have.

If you’ve never traveled up the Big Sur coast, a stop at McWay Falls is a must. The viewpoint is quite easy to access and the scene is impressive. Even with clear skies, the water color, waterfall spilling into the Pacific, and sheltered cove are a spectacular sight. Even though conditions weren’t perfect, I’m glad we stopped. Only a week or so later, fires burning down the mountainsides closed this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway for a few days. Even though I’m sure the landscape would benefit from it in the long-term, it would be a shame to see this area torched by a wildfire. Hopefully, this image conveys a fraction of the beauty of the region. Enjoy.

Venice Rookery

Venice Rookery 2

One thing that has been on my bucket list for a while has been to shoot the bird migration at Sanibel Island and the Venice Rookery. Given the facts that I live in Georgia and those locations are only about a nine-hour drive south of my home I should have been before now. Unfortunately each time I’ve considered making the trip something else at work or in my family has become a bigger priority and I couldn’t make the trip.

This past January, however, my wife’s parents decided to spend a month on Casey Key and she really wanted to check in on them to make sure they were doing okay. We decided to combine our interests and visit them and also make a long weekend out of the trip. The plan was to spend a night with them and a couple of nights on Sanibel. I would get to shoot a bit, she could check in on her parents, and we would both get a break from the colder weather in Atlanta.

So, we made the drive and I was able to get up early one morning and visit the Venice Rookery. As it turned out, the rookery was only about twenty minutes away from where they were staying! I had a blast shooting with my new Nikon 300 f/2.8 and teleconverters. Getting close up shots of beautiful blue herons, great egrets, and other migratory birds was a blast. There’s something beautiful and elegant about a bird in flight or interacting with other birds.

Unfortunately the time on Sanibel was not to be. Virtually every hotel on Sanibel was sold out since we were booking last minute. We stayed in nearby Fort Myers Beach but the weather turned rainy and windy. On our last day we were going to at least drive the wildlife trail on our way back to Atlanta, but a flat tire took up all of our time we had allotted for that. Oh well, at least Sanibel and the migratory birds will be there next year. I’m already planning a trip…

Venice Rookery 1 Venice Rookery 3 Venice Rookery 4 Venice Rookery 5 Venice Rookery 6 Venice Rookery 7

South Beach Lifeguard Stands at Sunrise

10th Street Lifeguard Stand at Sunrise

One of a string of unique and colorful lifeguard stands on South Beach in Miami, Florida

For spring break this year, we decided to go as far south as we could reasonably drive in search of warmer weather. It doesn’t get that cold in Atlanta, but, still, after a few months of temperatures hovering around freezing and occasionally dropping well below freezing, sunshine and the beach always sound pretty good. After a good bit of research we settled on a place in North Miami Beach. I wanted to stay away from some of the craziness of South Beach but still be close enough to enjoy it a bit.

So, I took a couple of visits to South Beach at sunrise to see if I could capture the lifeguard stands there in warm, early morning light. My first attempt was a bust because of overcast conditions and a triathlon taking place that day. The second attempt was much more successful. I would have preferred to have a few more clouds in the sky, but I’m still pretty pleased with the results. All of Miami Beach is beautiful, but the lifeguard stands from 22nd Street and southward in general are pretty cool. They are in an Art Deco style consistent with the architecture found in the rest of South Beach. It’s definitely worth checking out if you find yourself in the vicinity. Enjoy.

8th Street Lifeguard Station at Sunrise

One of a string of unique and colorful lifeguard stands on South Beach in Miami, Florida

Chihuly at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Chihuly at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

One of the works at Chihuly’s exhibition at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Pamela and I went with friends on Wednesday night to view the Chihuly exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It’s truly beautiful, especially near sunset and at dusk. The glasswork is amazing and when combined with the beauty of the garden, it really is worth the price of admission. Enjoy.

Rainbows Over the Cliffs of Moher

Rainbows Over the Cliffs of Moher

As the sun settles below a passing storm toward the horizon, rainbows appear above the Cliffs of Moher

I can’t recall where I first remember seeing the Cliffs of Moher, but I immediately put photographing them on my bucket list. When I started planning our trip to Ireland I knew that I had to have at least one sunset to try to capture some of their beauty.

As it turned out, we would visit the Cliffs on two separate occasions while in the west of Ireland. And the first trip seemed even more promising than the second. As part of the tour that we were taking for the middle six days of our time in Ireland, we would load onto a boat in a nearby town and view the cliffs from the sea. Needless to say, I brought my gear along looking forward to some iconic shots. Unfortunately, the day that the boat trip occurred, the weather was rainy and the sea was turbulent. I’m not much of a seagoing guy, but I think even the locals looked at us as a bit crazy for boarding a boat in the weather we had that day. Here’s a shot of a passing boat headed on our same route or as a ferry to one of the outlying islands.

The Doolin Ferry

A ferry boat headed to the Cliffs of Moher on a stormy Irish afternoon

Notice the gray skies, the fact that very few people are onboard, and that everyone who is onboard is covered head to toe in rain gear. And when we ran into the wind the waves piled up in front of us and it was an extremely rough ride. We did end up with some pretty amazing views of the cliffs, but they were so shrouded in fog that it just didn’t make a great shot. Not to mention I was terrified that the sea spray would corrode my camera and lenses.

Fortunately for me, Pamela and I had scheduled our final two nights in Ireland to stay on the coast within easy driving distance of the Cliffs in the town of Lahinch. As we made our way up from the Dingle Peninsula towards Lahinch, the weather was rainy and windy. It was beautiful weather in which to see the lush Irish countryside but not so conducive to hiking and making photographs. We were just looking forward to getting to our hotel and having a warm, dry place to lay our head for the night. But, I still kept an eye on the weather just in case the sun might make a late afternoon appearance and spread some golden light on the Cliffs of Moher.

As it turned out, that is close to what happened. My long-suffering wife saw me looking wistfully out the window at dinner and quickly agreed to take a drive up the coast just in case the light might get good. Isolated storms were sweeping up the coast but moved on quickly and sometimes let brief glimpses of the sun and blue sky overhead appear. We made it to the parking lot of the Cliffs just as another small squall moved through the area. It wasn’t looking good. But, we put on our rain jackets and I strapped on my Think Tank Trifecta 10 bag and tripod and we began the walk up to the viewpoints.

Once we set up it became apparent that there was a small shot that the sun would make an appearance that night. We could see squalls moving across the landscape but they were spotty and sunlight was definitely hitting parts of the landscape in the distance. So, we began the wait for magic light.

In Ireland in midsummer the sunset doesn’t happen until nearly 10:00 at night. We were probably there by 8:30. Once I had picked the ‘right’ spot, I set up my gear, got my rain covers ready, and started looking for the right light. I had two bodies ready. I had my D700 with a 70-200 2.8 lens and a D800 on a tripod with my 24-70 2.8 on it. I was shooting wide with the D800 and a bit more localized with the D700.

Amazingly, as one of the storms rolled by overhead, the sun began to break through behind. I don’t know that I ever actually saw the sun, but it would occasionally light up the entire foreground, the cliffs, and the landscape beyond. And, as often happens in these conditions, rainbows began to form! At first Pamela and I both thought we could see a weak rainbow, but as the storm clouds moved by it became more and more vibrant. Then, a second smaller rainbow formed. I started shooting as quickly as possible making as many different compositions as possible. I bracketed exposures, shot with a neutral density filter, shot with a polarizer, and sometimes with a combination of all of those. I wanted to capture the moment as well as possible making sure I had enough images to capture the ever shifting mood of the scene.

Finally, the sun settled behind some clouds on the horizon. I never had the warm glow of the setting sun on the Cliffs of Moher that I had envisioned. But, I had my own unique version of the Cliffs – two rainbows and a dramatic stormy sky overhead. Overall, it was a magical and memorable evening. I hope this image conveys some sense of the magic that we felt that midsummer evening at the Cliffs of Moher.