I really love the Big Sur coastline. It’s my happy place, and I suspect it’s also the happy place of many, many other people. Many who wish to capture some of that grandeur and beauty with a camera. Fellow Aperture Academy instructor Jean Day and I are happy to help them learn to do that better.
Though we had the added challenge of Daylight Savings Time, we all met on time, and were ready for a full day of photography. After a brief orientation we loaded into our van and set off to the Carmel Mission. This building and grounds truly is one of my favorite places to shoot in the area. There are SO many small details here that literally every time I come I see something new. I enjoy pointing this out to the others.
Patterns, colors, contrast, shape, line, light it’s all here. We talked about polarizing filters, how to speed up the shutter with higher ISO to get shutter speeds fast enough to capture drops of water. We looked at the repetition of shape and color and talked about how to make compelling compositions utilizing these elements that are located in this mission in spades. We talk about aperture as it relates to shutter speed, and depth of field and a host of other topics.
The time here always flies. Before we know it 2 hours have passed and its time to move on. Our second stop is Bixby Bridge. This stone bridge is a Highway 1 icon…and always worth a stop. The cloudy sky gave us another reason to talk about how to use polarizers to cut glare, and add depth to the sky.
From here it’s a curvy ride down 1 to McWay Falls. This location is always stunning, and I think I here at least two to three audible ‘ooohs’ or ‘ahhhs’ during our walk out to the falls. People see photos of this location and never think the water color is "really that blue" but someone always ends up commenting. "Wow the water really IS that blue."
Yes, it is!
The goal here is to begin to discuss not only compositional elements of shooting this spot, but also to talk about ways to get the longer shutter speeds necessary to get the moving/milky water. For those with a solid ND filter this is a much easier process, for those without…we must lower our ISO, raise our aperture, and try to get as long of an exposure as we can. Even a little bit of movement in the water can bring on a dramatically different appearance. From close up to far away this shot is always nice. Jean and I saw some really nice images in both camps on the backs of the cameras. Many people get to the falls, and get wrapped in to shooting them and forget that there is a dramatic stretch of coastline to view and photograph just around the walkway from them. We always try to make sure everyone see the whole boardwalk area, and makes it to the end of the trail.
Our final stop of the evening is Pfieffer Beach. This location is popular for its sandstone arch. This time of year the sun doesn’t shine directly into the arch, but that doesn’t make the location any less spectacular…and the clouds made it seem like we could be in store for a great sunset. Our group of photographers lined the beach and Jean and I helped them get locked in on the settings. We passed out grad filters to help student get the best balanced exposures, and talked about ways to compose and use these filters to get the longest exposures possible. We briefly discussed the way to set white balance to bring out the best of the warmth of the light, and then helped fine-tune those compositions. Once this was in place it was time to wait for the show.
The sky gave us some beautiful pastels in the sky to the north of the window and everyone got some really nice dreamy moving water shots that really showcased the color. Close up, wide angle, we shot it all…and the class had some stunning images! The only thing to do now was get them back to their cars so they could get back and process them!
After the drive back to the cars we unloaded 12 passengers who were still trying to adjust to the daylight savings time and set them off for home to work on the processing of their images.
Jean, Brian and the rest of the Aperture Academy.
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.