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.

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

Sunset at the Santa Monica Pier

Sunset at the Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier glows brightly as the sun lights up the sky over the Pacific

A few years ago, my daughter, Lauren, and I took a trip to California. During that trip I had envisioned a shot of the Santa Monica Pier lit up brightly with a glowing sunset overhead and a reflection of it all in the wet sand of Santa Monica beach. Alas, the weather did not cooperate. Fog rolled in on the night I was setting up for the shot and ultimately we couldn’t even see the pier from the beach! Fortunately, we were able to make it up the coast to Malibu and took another favorite shot of mine. You can view that image here.

So, on our recent trip to California I knew I wanted to take another shot at capturing that image. As it turned out, we spent our last night in Santa Monica. I actually wanted to stay in Malibu, but the hotel we wanted to stay in was already booked for that night. Fortunately, the hotel we chose was in the heart of Santa Monica and offered easy access to the beach and to the pier.

While my wife and daughters ate some dinner and rode some of the carnival rides on the pier, I worked my way over to the beach on the south side of the pier and scouted out my location for a sunset shot. That turned out to be pretty easy to do. The hard part was that a camera club had beat me to my spot and had already staked out some pretty good locations. I spent the rest of the night working around that group of people. Some of them were very talented and knew exactly what they were looking to do. Others really didn’t have a clue and seemed to be along for the ride.

I could tell that the clouds that were hovering offshore had a chance to create a pretty spectacular sunset. Of course, if there was no break in the clouds, the sunset could also have been a total bust. Fortunately for me and for the club members a pretty awesome light show ensued. I spent the next hour or so with my jeans rolled up standing on the edge of the surf (sometimes in it!) totally immersed in the experience of capturing the shot. What an awesome evening it was!

This shot was taken about twenty minutes after sunset with my D800 and a 24-70 f/2.8 lens. The shot was exposed for two seconds to create a silky feel in the water and I opened the lens to f/6.3 to get as crisp an exposure as possible and holding focus from a spot about ten feet in front of me to beyond the pier. I was also waiting for a set of waves to wash over the entire beach in front of me so that the reflection of the Ferris wheel would be as complete as possible. Of course all of this was shot on a tripod with a cable release and with the camera in mirror lockup mode in order to obtain as crisp an image as possible.

All of those elements converged at the right time on this occasion. There is a moment after sunset when the available light in the sky matches the subject matter and the image turns out just right. This was one of those occasions. If you can’t tell, I just love this image. It is definitely my favorite image of the entire trip. If only all the elements could come together on every photo shoot the way they did on this one. Enjoy.

The Chromatic Gate

The Chromatic Gate

This vividly colored sculpture stands just across from the beach in Santa Barbara and is dedicated to her local artists

So, this image is a bit out of left field for me. I love to take landscape images and other images based in nature. This image is definitely not that. However, I also love to capture patterns and textures. This image definitely is all that.

The image comes from our trip this past spring to California. Although I missed much of the LA leg of our family trip, I was around as we made our way up the coast. We stayed a couple of nights in Santa Barbara which is definitely worthy of a photographer’s attention for a few days, if not longer.

As I wandered through Santa Barbara, this sculpture caught my eye. The image here is simply a detail of a larger structure called The Chromatic Gate. Apparently, it was erected in the 1970s or 1980s as a tribute to the colony of local artists that thrives there. Over time, the sculpture lost its vibrant color and suffered a few dings and dents. It was restored to its original vibrancy in 2013. Whether you like it or not, it certainly attracts your attention as you make your way down the beach road in Santa Barbara. If you are ever in Santa Barbara and on the beach, you won’t likely miss it. Enjoy.

Folly Beach Pier Sunrise

Folly Beach Pier Sunrise

The pier at Folly Beach, South Carolina at sunrise

Deciding on sunrise locations is much easier than choosing sunset locations when in Charleston. Since the Atlantic is due east of Charleston you want to be somewhere where you can see the ocean. You don’t have to worry about distracting elements taking attention away from the main attraction – the rising sun.

So, when I visited Folly Beach at sunrise, what did I do? I put a distracting element in my image of the sunrise. And I like it.

I shot for a few minutes on the other side of the pier getting some colorful sky shots with interesting blurry ocean waves using long exposures. But, I quickly realized that those shots could have been taken anywhere there is a direct view from the beach of the rising, or for that matter, the setting sun.

I realized that the star of the show could be the pier itself. So, I found myself composing the pier into my shots in as many ways as possible. Given the length of the pier, any shot showing it in its entirety made the sun almost an afterthought in the image. Ultimately I compromised with a short section of the pier acting as a frame for the rising sun. The pier, its reflection in the wet sand, the ocean waves, the orange sky, and the sun itself make for a pleasing combination of elements. I really like the shot. I hope you do as well.

Malibu Pier at Twilight

Malibu Pier at Twilight

As Lauren and I worked our way up the coast from San Diego, we stopped in several beautiful beach towns. In many of them I found some wonderful photography by local artists. As I looked through their wonderful work, I found myself a bit jealous that they could spend many sunsets on these beautiful beaches waiting for just the right conditions while I would have just one shot when I put my tripod down for the sunset.

Fortunately, some of my favorite work used one of the many local piers as a focal point. So, I envisioned a shot and began to look for a pier that would work as a subject. As it turned out, we were in Malibu for a couple of sunsets and the pier there was an ideal candidate for what I had in mind.

For this shot, I wanted to find some rocks or boulders that would be washed over by the tide during a long exposure shot. That wasn’t hard to find in Malibu since the coast line is rocky and multiple subjects were available. Once I found my rocks, I simply waited for a set of waves to move in and create the right trail of foam around the rocks. In this image, I shot about thirty minutes after sunset. I used a ten second exposure to smooth out the waves and to get the right effect around the boulders. I shot with my 24-70 lens at 24mm and f/22 to get maximum depth of field. I wanted the rocks crisp and the pier to be as in focus as possible. As a bonus the lights on the pier create a nice reflection in the water made smooth by the long exposure.

I’m sure I could improve on the image if I lived in Malibu since I would have multiple sunsets to work with. Hey, I’m open to that. But, I’m still pleased with this result. I hope you enjoy it as well.

A Perfect Beach Day

A Perfect Beach Day

The beautiful clear water of the Caribbean with perfect cumulus clouds floating overhead

As I sit writing this there is two to three inches of fresh snowfall on the patio outside my office. I and many of my friends had two to twelve-hour commutes home because of a snow event that was supposed to move well south of us. Some people drove all night to get home or had to stop wherever there was a warm building to sleep for the night. Atlanta is in gridlock and will be for another day or two.

So, this is for my friends in the ATL. Wherever you are, keep warm and safe. Thanks to all of you opened your homes or ventured out to help friends and strangers. The outpouring of love and sacrifice I observed is one of many reasons is I love this place. Keep looking for ways to serve and to be the hands of feet of Christ as people around us are in need. And enjoy an unexpected day or two with family and friends.

Maybe this picture from the Caribbean will warm you up on this cold January day. Summer will be back soon enough and all this will be behind us. In the meantime, enjoy!

Late Afternoon Light on Laguna Beach

Late Afternoon Light on Laguna Beach

One of many beautiful coves at picturesque Laguna Beach

This is going to sound really “artsy”, but there really is something unique about the quality of light at Laguna Beach. Yes, I’m an East Coast guy so I’m used to beach sunrises instead of sunsets. But, there is something different about Laguna Beach. Perhaps it’s the air quality (or lack thereof because of the smog in southern California), the type of sand, the cloud layers, or some other element, but there is something unique about the light.

Whatever it is, the light is beautiful. The golden hours seem a bit longer and the conditions are perfect longer than just about anywhere else I have visited. I really love to be up 30 minutes before sunrise and to stay out until about that long after sunset. Of course the light goes harsh at midday as it does in most other locations, but when it is right it is just flat-out beautiful.

This image was also taken just below our hotel. There are many small coves along the beach near Laguna Beach and Laguna Niguel. Some of those coves are only accessible from the cliffs above or by boat. Many can be accessed from adjoining coves at low tide but become isolated at high tide. This particular cove is at the end of a long stretch of sandy beach and is easily accessible.

To get this shot, I found a spot where the incoming tide would be prominent in the shot and would let me showcase the beauty of the Laguna Niguel and Laguna Hills area. The sun was about an hour away from setting and the light was turning warm and golden. I shot a series of images looking for the right exposure length to give the sense of the waves in action while not turning the ocean to a milky consistent texture. As it turned out the magic combination was 0.6 seconds at f/20.

On a night when it is going down to sixteen degrees (that’s cold here in the South!) and snow flurries are flying outside my home, I’d love to be walking the warm beaches of southern California this afternoon. Enjoy!

Laguna Beach Sunset

Laguna Beach Sunset

The sun drops toward the horizon after another beautiful day at Laguna Be ach

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may know that one of my favorite places in the world is Laguna Beach, California. It’s an incredibly beautiful environment right on the Pacific Coast in southern Orange County. I suppose it is technically in the Los Angeles metro area but it feels nothing like LA or San Diego. It’s really a beach town that has been absorbed by the suburban sprawl of Southern California.

But, it’s easy to get a feel for what the area must have been like fifty years ago when you wander the neighborhoods between the Pacific Ocean and Highway 1 or just on the other side of the highway. The small downtown area and a shopping area a few blocks north and south of there are filled with eclectic shops, cool little restaurants, and a fair share of surf shops. Scattered around are some nice to super luxurious hotels and inns. All in all, it’s a great place to spend a few days, weeks, or a lifetime.

We were very fortunate to be able to stay in one of the three nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in while we were in Laguna Beach. The accommodations were incredible but the view was simply stunning. This image was taken just around the corner from our hotel. Amazingly, this is just a so-so sunset. I’ve seen much prettier at Laguna Beach, but unfortunately not during our stay. I hope to return soon and enjoy the beauty there for another spell. Enjoy.

Dusk View from Rosemary Beach

Dusk View from Rosemary Beach

The setting sun illuminates the sky and clouds over the Gulf of Mexico as viewed from Rosemary Beach

I’m a sucker for sunsets. I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of sunsets. Each time I think this one is the best one yet. Then, the next night, I will think that night’s sunset is even prettier than the previous night’s! So, take it with a grain of salt when I say this one was special.

We have some very gracious friends who invite us to spend time with them at their beach house in Rosemary Beach, Florida. Rosemary is an idyllic beach community located in the Florida Panhandle off Route 30-A. There are a string of such communities along 30-A each of which are unique yet share the same stretch of pristine, sugar-sand beach. It’s truly a privilege to be able to stay in their beautiful home only a few dozen steps from the beach.

While we are there, I always take my camera. It’s not that the architecture has changed dramatically or that I haven’t captured multiple sunrises or sunsets from there. I’ve done all of that and have enough images to last a lifetime. But, there is a certain quality of light there that seems to vary considerably. From the boardwalks at Rosemary, the sun sets out over the Gulf of Mexico. It’s sometimes difficult to find a foreground for my sunset images, but the sunset itself is often enough of a subject. In this image, the foreground was a pretty busy beach with couples strolling and children still running through the surf as the sun set. So, I decided to eliminate that foreground and focus on the graduated sky and multi-hued clouds as the subject. It was one of those sunsets where the longer I waited, the more the sun painted the clouds overhead. I shot several frames but this one captures the peak extent of color in the clouds overhead. After this image, the sun sank far enough below the horizon that the overhead color diminished quickly.

Looking at this image makes me appreciate the beauty of the beaches that we frequent. I’m sometimes jealous of my friends in Southern California or other beach communities who have ready access to scenes like this. Fortunately, the beach is only a few hours drive away. And, the distance makes me appreciate the beauty of it all the more. Enjoy.