Cliff

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.

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.

The Antrim Coast – Panorama

The Antrim Coast - Panorama

A panoramic view of the coast of Northern Ireland, County Antrim as viewed from Carrick-a-Rede

Our last stop on the Antrim coast after visiting the Dark Hedges, eating lunch in Portrush, and trekking out to the Giants Causeway was to visit the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Apparently the rope bridge was set up by fishermen to give them access to the small island of Carrick-a-Rede during salmon season. Although the fishermen no longer catch salmon in the area, the rope bridge is still maintained as a tourist attraction by the National Trust.

One unexpected benefit of visiting this location was the amazing view of the Northern Ireland coast. OF course I was traveling with camera in hand, so I took a few minutes to capture some images from the small island looking back to the mainland. It’s not hard to imagine from this view why the color green is so associated with Ireland. And the beauty of the Irish coast is literally hard to describe. Of course my view was in the summertime. I imagine that on a cold January day the view from here would be much different! Enjoy the image. There will be more from Ireland soon.

Fall Color at Chapel Pond

Fall Color at Chapel Pond

Fall color at its peak above Chapel Pond in the Adirondacks

One of the shots that I had visualized before my trip to the Adirondacks was a beautiful fall landscape reflected in one of the many ponds in the area. I had achieved my goal earlier in the day with my excursion to Round Pond. But, there was another shot that I also hoped to capture.

Chapel Pond is one example of many ponds in the area that sit at the base of steep cliffs covered in trees. The trees are a mix of evergreen and deciduous and create an interesting composition in the fall. The gray granite of the cliffs creates a wonderful contrast with the green pines and the yellows, oranges, and reds of the changing deciduous trees. I wanted that combination reflected in a still pond.

Unfortunately, finding a moment where the ponds were perfectly still proved to be more difficult than I had realized. In the early mornings, the water was calm, but dense fog settled in over the ponds and ruined any chance for a reflection shot. Later in the day, the fog was pushed aside by the sun burning through the fog and the wind that rose up to clear it out. But, the wind also ruined the mirror smooth water that I needed for a reflection.

So, I settled for a shot that focused on a cliff with foliage clinging precariously and its foliage at the peak of fall color without the pond. It isn’t the shot that I had envisioned, but it still turned out quite nicely, I think. Enjoy.