What better ways to spend Mother's Day than a relaxing photo shoot along the Big Sur coastline! Jean Day and I met a group of really excited photographers, some mothers and some just photographers at the Crossroads center in Carmel for a full day of exploring the very beautiful coastline and scenic Big Sur area on a beautifully sunny day.
After a brief orientation we loaded the group into our ApCab van and set off for the Carmel Mission. I love the mission! It's filled with so many small details and great opportunities for photography. We work a lot here with settings. I like to use this as a place for aperture lessons. We talk about how the wider aperture like f4 and f5.6 can give nice bokeh (blurred) backgrounds, while putting the detail on the subject. Many people don't really understand all the factors that go into this effect, and I use the many wonderful flowers in the garden to help demonstrate the concept. Not only do lower apertures like f4 help to give a nice blur to the background of a subject, but things like how close you are to the subject, how far the subject is from the background, and how much you've zoomed in all have a say in how that bokeh effect looks.
In addition to the many wonderful patterns and colors in the missions' foliage, there are a couple great fountains that have some fun texture, and details to shoot for some interesting abstract images. As a photographer, I know I love little details, and colors, and painterly looking images…the fountains can help create images with all these things. It takes a fast shutter, and a lot of zoom, but the effects are really nice…I enjoyed seeing the camera backs and some of the shots the class got using these subjects.
Once we'd enjoyed the fort for a little while it was time to head off down the twisty highway 1, to the famous Bixby Bridge. This little stone bridge is not only a marvel of construction; it is a marvelous subject for photography. We don't stay too long but it's a great place to work on composition, and using a polarizer to help get a little extra pop to those images. I personally like to use this spot for foreground, and helping students see the importance of a good foreground. I found some nice pink ice-plant flowers on one side of the bridge, and a nice group of purple lupine on the other…both of these made for some really nice bits of color to make the image foreground stronger, and balance the image.
For a few students I showed them leading lines in the surf, and how to shoot some nice vertical images of the layers of stone stretching out down the coast. I also talk a little on how composing a shot with a little ‘extra' room can be good for magazines, and to help you crop a little in post processing should you need to make any adjustments…sometimes giving yourself that added space can help a lot versus making such a tight composition in the field.
McWay Falls looks like it might be in Hawaii. Years ago, when I first saw an image of it I thought it WAS in Hawaii…I was excited to find out it was not. The beach bound waterfall, the bright azure water, and vibrant green foliage are really like something out of a postcard. Jean and I walked the class out on the boardwalk to set up and get some shots of this wonderful slice of heaven.
A few students had solid neutral density filters with them, and we helped them get some nice long exposures of the falls, that really gave a silky look to the water in the falls and the sea crashing on the beach. For others we worked with upping their aperture and make sure we were lowering the ISO ALL the way to get the longest exposure possible in the late afternoon. Most students were able to get ¼ of a second or slightly longer which was enough to get some movement in the water, and make the visual flow of the image more interesting.
Moving water is always a big mystery to a lot of new photographers, and one of the topics they look forward to learning most. The final stop of the day, Pfieffer Beach is where we really do the bulk of our long exposure work.
Once we're out on the beach we set up the tripods, press up the apertures to their highest number to both get a wider depth of field, and to reduce the size of the aperture so we can get longer exposures. Then we combine the graduated filters we talk a lot about, with the polarizers, and start to get some great images of the water as it blasts through the small opening in the iconic sea arch.
The lower the sun gets the longer our exposures are, and the silkier the water looks. Jean and I make our rounds to help demonstrate filter use, help with composition, or explain some of the trade-offs that need to be made when dealing with high contrast subjects like this. The bright sky, and dark rock of the arch can make for some tricky exposures, even with the filter…it is possible to get a nice usable image…but some situations do call for shooting at least 2 exposures and understanding post-processing techniques to get the most of the high range of light. One method to avoid this is to zoom in and focus only on the arch, and the water in and around the hole. This evens out the light more, and still creates really interesting images of the water as it crashes into the small opening, and spills out across the boulders peeking up out of the sand.
Whether you shoot close or wide, the shot is beautiful, and Jean and I both saw some really pretty shots on the backs of those cameras!
When the sun had finally dipped below the horizon, it was time for us to pack up and make that long drive back to Carmel so we could let everyone return home to their families, and get to the task of processing all those images they had taken during the day. What a day it was!
Until Next Time,
Brian, Jean and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.