Fire & Fog!

Location: Russian Ridge 
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF 70-200mm f/4 USM | 98mm | f/11 | 1/25s | ISO 100

One of those rare Summer days where Escaype predicted a good & colorful Sunset. There is no way I was going to miss it. The question, as usual, was to decide where to go. In the Escaype forum, Russian Ridge came up as a good spot for Sunset. So, I decided to head out to Russian Ridge and a couple of my friends wanted to join me.

We met at one of my friend’s office so we could park our cars there and carpool. The drive took us just about 45 minutes. In terms of distance, it’s only 20 miles or so but the road up the hill is with full of twists and turns. This is the second time I am heading up this road. The first time around, it was for Sunrise and that’s the day when a) my 7D stopped working and 2) I felt so nauseated that I almost threw up. I was worried about the trip up the hill but luckily I went up the hill without any discomfort.

Since none of us have been to Russian Ridge, we didn’t know where to go. One of our friends gave genera direction as to where to park and which trail to take. One of the Escaype members pointed to the same trail. We got to the parking lot about an hour and half ahead of Sunset time. We started walking up the Ridge Trail.

The first spot we stopped at was beautiful. We could see a thick layer of fog completely covering the scene in front of us. Actually, fog was not too high so a good portion of the foreground hills and grass were visible. We weren’t sure if we should stay at this spot or continue walking.

We saw a guy standing about half a mile away and we thought that may be a better place to stand for Sunset. So, we started walking towards him. When we got to where we thought he stood, we couldn’t find him. But, we saw that the trail we were on went up the hill to a corner. We thought that would make a good spot to setup for Sunset. When we went there, we realized that location wasn’t ideal but we didn’t want to keep searching for a better spot.

We setup our tripod and started taking test shots. The light was quite harsh so I knew that none of the shots were going to be good but I wanted to see what kind of comp I could get. We just waited and chatted as the Sun went down. What we realized was that clouds started dissipating, which was not good.

I took this shot when the Sun was behind the horizon. As you can see, there are only few wispy clouds. When we walked into this location, there were lot more clouds. We didn’t get the burn or the colors we had hoped for. But, I was able to bring some color in post processing.

Unfortunately, I did not have my ND filter with me. Let me take that back. I had the ND Filters with me but I didn’t have the adapter rings for the lenses I had that day. I wanted to use a 10 or 16, or even 19 stop ND filter to see if I can get the rolling fog but I couldn’t. Well, there’s always night time.


Carrizo Sunset!

Location: Four Mile Beach, Santa Cruz 
Time: Midnight
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM | 25mm | f/16 | 2s | ISO 3200

As I have mentioned numerous times before, I am so glad I got into Landscape Photography. More importantly, I am so glad I am part of a Photography community. Oh! The places I have visited in the last year and half. I didn’t even know a majority of them even existed. One such place is the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

My trip to Carrizo with my friends was quite fruitful. I have never seen anything like Carrizo before. I was lucky to visit during a year that had what’s called the super-bloom. To be honest, had I got a week or two earlier, it would have been even more spectacular as I would have seen lot more colors – yellows, purples, and oranges. By the time I went, it was a bit late and it was primarily yellows. Still, one of the most spectacular things I have seen. Sea of flowers everywhere you turn; what’s not to like.

As it so happened, there was Meetup at Carrizo the same day we were planning to be there. We love the organizer so we decided to join the Meetup. The good news is that we didn’t have to plan our day; the organizer knew what spots to take us to. The bad news, it’s exactly that. We were stuck to places that the organizer took us to. Believe me, every single spot the organizer took us to were breathtaking. However, it did restrict us from exploring certain spots or spend more time on certain spots.

After a long hike at one of the locations, it was time to decide what to do for Sunset. The organizer had plans to take to group to a specific location for Sunset. However, it didn’t quite workout. There were more than 2 dozen people in the group and with such a large group, it was impossible to gather everyone to get to the next spot. The group cooperated very well throughout the day until the last spot. Everyone became tired and took their sweet time.

Sun was setting fast and a good number didn’t get back from the hike. The organizer waited and waited but lost his patience. So, he asked whoever was there to head out and see if you we can capture the Sunset. The moment we heard that, we took off. We were scrambling to find a good spot to shoot the Sunset. We didn’t find a single spot to shoot the Sunset and the colors were fading fast. We decided to go to a known location rather than try to find a new spot.

So we went back to a spot that we went in the afternoon. By the time we got to the location, it was a bit late. The Sun was already behind the horizon but there was a little bit of color left. I didn’t really spend a lot time thinking about the comp. I just setup my tripod and started shooting.

I went with a slightly longer exposure to capture as much light as I could. I am happy that I got some shot with some color. Come to think of it, we should have either stayed where we were to capture the Sunset or take off right after we got down from our hike. Oh well! Too late to think about what we could have or should have done. It was a great trip, nevertheless.

Week 25 – Get Low

The 25th Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is to Get Low. The goal was to look at the world from a different angle and shoot a landscape from a low point of view.

This was a challenge that I knew I’d be able to easily meet. I take many of my landscape photos from a low angle. When I started with landscapes, I used to always take photos from one angle. I then started experimenting with different angles. I was amazed how much of a difference changing just the angle makes. Everything else remains the same including the frame but changing the angle completely changes the representation of the scene.

Every location I go to, I try different spots, different angles, different heights, and different frames. My goal is not to necessarily get something unique. I know that’s what a lot of Photographers are aiming for; to get something unique. I know many Photographers don’t like shooting together as they don’t want to end up with the same photo as the Photographer next to them.

To me, there’s only so much you can do to avoid getting similar or identical frames. Think about a scene like Tunnel View at Yosemite, which has been shot by thousands of Photographers. I am sure hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of photos have been taken from that location. How much different can your comp really be? I am not saying it’s impossible to get a unique comp but it is difficult. In my mind, where you can truly show your uniqueness is not just in the comp but in your post processing as well. What set apart Ansel Adams was not just what he captured but the hours and hours he spent dodging & burning his photos to get to a level that he was satisfied with. That’s what makes his work unique.

Here’s a photo that I took at Almaden Lake Park for this challenge. I went there knowing that there will be some cloud action and some color in the sky. I have shot Almaden Lake so many times; the challenge was to see if I can find a different comp. I was walking around and I saw a bunch of driftwood by the lake shore. I tried different comps with the various driftwoods that were there but nothing really worked. So, I decided to create my own comp.

I moved one of the drift woods into the position that I wanted and went really low to the ground. I tried crouching low to the ground to take the shot but that didn’t quite well. So, I sat on the muddy floor with all sorts of insects and bugs. The shots sitting down were closer to what I had in mind but still not quite what I wanted. So, I lied on the floor next to my tripod to take this shot. Was this the lowest I could’ve gone? No! I could’ve shortened my tripod even further and could’ve got a shot from a slightly lower angle. I didn’t think that was necessary for this shot.


Galactic Unicorn

Location: Four Mile Beach, Santa Cruz 
Time: Midnight
EXIF: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS USM | 16mm | f/2.8 | 25s | ISO 3200

Oh man! I can’t believe I finally took the plunge and got the Canon 5D Mark IV. I have done hours and hours of research and decided to stick with Canon rather than go the Sony mirrorless route. The decision to go with 5D Mark IV was made early this year or even end of last year. I just didn’t want to drop so much on my camera but to some degree I had to.

Sowmya has been pushing me to get the 5D Mark IV for a while but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Even though my 7D had yielded outstanding results for me, I still felt in several instances that I needed a full-frame. One such situation is shooting Milky Way. After about 8 or 10 trips to shoot the Milky Way, I only managed to get 2 or 3 keepers. My 7D was just not cut out for shooting Milky Way; it wasn’t able to handle noise effectively.

While I was contemplating getting my next camera, I was perfectly fine shooting with my 7D. One of my friends asked if I wanted to go to Skyline Blvd. area for Sunrise as Escapye predicted a colorful Sunrise. I jumped on the opportunity and met with him at his office. We were a bit late but we started driving up the windy roads leading to Skyline Blvd. We didn’t have a particular spot in mind. This was my first trip up the hill so wasn’t even sure what to expect.

As we were driving up the hill, we were looking for an opening looking east and we found a couple. We decided to pull at the next opening rather than continuing to drive looking for a better location. So, we pull up to one of the openings and the colors are already popping. I am so excited to see a colorful sky after a while. I take my camera out and walk to a location and frame my shot. I try to autofocus and nothing. I mean, absolutely nothing happened. I tried a couple of times and nothing happened. I thought it might be the lens so I changed and still nothing. Then I thought it was the battery so I changed that and still nothing.

At this point, I was worried. I tried accessing the menu and it didn’t come up. I then realized that none of the buttons worked. Basically, other than manual focus, nothing worked. I tried everything I could but it just didn’t respond. I tried my best to shoot with manual focus but I couldn’t review my shots so I didn’t know how they were turning out. Trust me, I tried everything I could think of. Nothing worked!

Needless to say that I was really disappointed. On the way back, I knew it was time to finally pull the trigger on the 5D Mark IV. I placed a bid on Greentoe and within minutes I got a counter offer. Assuming that the dealer would not go below the counter offer, I put in a bid for another counter offer more than $100 lower than the counter offer. I came home and to my surprise, my counter offer was accepted. I couldn’t believe that I finally purchased a camera that I was eyeing for over 6 months.

Now that I had the 5D Mark IV, I was looking for an opportunity to put it to work. Of course, I fired a few test shots at home but I was looking to go out on a Photoshoot soon. When the opportunity came to shoot the Milky Way at Four Mile Beach, I couldn’t resist. Even though I was super tired after a busy couple of days planning for our Baby Shower and even we had company till about 8 PM, I decided to head out that night.

One of my friends picked me up around 9:30 and we went to our usual carpool spot to pick another friend. On the way to Santa Cruz, we stopped at another friend’s place to pick him up. The four of us went to Four Mile Beach. We found a parking lot that we thought and assumed was the Four Mile Beach. We started walking towards the beach and doubts started in everyone’s mind as to whether we are in the right location.

We kept walking and after about 5-7 minutes, we knew we were in the right location. We got to the beach and it was low tide. So, we decided to go close to the Four Mile Bach Sea Stack, which we wanted to use as our foreground element. We had to clim some rock formations to get to the other side where we had clear view of the sea stack and the Milky Way. We took several shots from our first spot. Those shots turned out well but we wanted more. So, we started walking closer and closer to the Sea Stack.

The difference between my 7D and the new 5D Mark IV was day and night. I couldn’t believe the details my new 5D Mark IV was able to capture. I knew that I couldn’t blame equipment anymore. If my Milky Way shots don’t turn out well, then it’s user error 🙂

To get to the next location, we had to climb even more rocks but it wasn’t too difficult. The next location was pretty close to the Sea Stack and by this time, the alignment with the stack was perfect. So, I started firing away shots. I went with the 400 rule as I heard it was better than the 500 or the 600 rule. I knew that going with NPF rule was gonna be better but I didn’t know what those settings should be. So, I went with a 25s exposure at f/2.8 and ISO 3200.

This is a single shot. I did get multiple frames to try and stack but somehow the single shot yielded better results compared to stacking. I have to figure out how to stack to get better MW shots. In terms of processing, I looked at several Youtube videos for inspiration and every video had a different take to processing Milky Way photos. I tried a few variations and came up with my own workflow.

By no means is this a ‘great’ Milky Way shot. But, it’s a step in the right direction. As I said before, it’s no longer equipment; it’s up to me to capture and process awesome Milky Way shots.

Week 24 – Contrasting Colors

The 24th Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is ‘Contrasting Colors’. One of the first things I learned during my research into Photography Color wheel is that colors opposite to each other are called ‘Complementary’ Colors and colors next to each other in the color wheel are called ‘Analogous’ Colors.

The challenge for last week was to shoot a scene with complementary colors. As part of the write-up for that challenge, I went into details about the Photography Color Wheel so I am not going to go into the same details here. The goal for this week is to do the opposite; meaning, shoot a scene with analogous colors.

I have already mentioned that Analogous colors are located next to each other on the color wheel. Which means that Orange/Yellow colors are analogous and so are blue/purple. I mentioned in my previous post that complementing colors bring contrast to an image and make it dynamic. Analogous colors, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. Meaning, analogous colors create a more soothing look; it can give photographs flow, harmony and an easy to understand color theme.

I was looking for an opportunity to shoot a landscape with analogous colors. Many of the posts that I read online about Analogous colors had Sunflower as an example. I knew my photography friends have been talking about heading to Davis area to shoot the Sunflower fields. So, I was waiting for that to happen.

The opportunity presented itself and I jumped on it. Going in, we knew that there would be no clouds and the sky would be colorful but we still wanted to head out before the Sunflowers season ended. The moment I saw the first Sunflower field I immediately realized why they are used time and again as an example for analogous colors. The yellow flower with green leaves work really well together.

Similar to complementary colors, analogous colors can be found plenty in nature. Now that I know what complementary and analogous colors are, I am going to consciously look for more of these color combinations to create unique perspectives.

Week 23 – Complementing Colors

The 23rd Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Complementing Colors. The goal was to get familiar with the Photography color wheel and shoot a scene with complementing colors.

What’s the Photography Color Wheel? Here’s one that I found online that is a good representation of the Photography Color Wheel. A traditional color wheel is composed of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, and each color serves as the complement of the opposite color across the wheel.

Analogous Colors In Photography

Some examples of common color combinations that work as complementary colors include Orange/Blue, Yellow/Purple, and Red/Green. Nature is full of complementing colors. These are called complementing colors as they do just that; they seamlessly complement each other.

Here’s a good visual representation of ‘complementary’ colors that I found online. Lacie Lynnae

Since nature is full of complementary colors, looking for the right colors in our composition may help us broaden our range of shots. My goal with the 52 week Landscape Composition Photo challenge is to do just that. Instead of keep falling to the comp techniques that I am very comfortable aka Rule of Thirds or Leading Lines, I wanted to add more comp techniques to my tool belt. Understanding how to use colors effectively will be a great way to look for unique perspectives. Since complementary colors are easily found in nature, I don’t have to create it in post-processing.

The featured image in this post, in my mind, is a good example of complementing colors – blues & oranges. I shot this during Sunset at Alviso Marina. The predictions weren’t necessarily high that day but it turned out to be a spectacular Sunset. Since complementary colors occur in nature, you are naturally drawn to it. That’s exactly what happened here. The moment I saw oranges and blues, I started firing away. I went with long exposure to smooth out the water and make clouds wispy.

Here’s another example of complementary colors – Purple/Yellow. This was shot during Sunrise at Santa Teresa Park. A beautiful Sunrise where colors brilliantly complement each other.

One of the things I learned as part of my research on Photography Complementary colors is that 1) colors opposite to each other in the color wheel complement each other and 2) complementary colors create contrast in image and makes it more dynamic.

Complementary colors is definitely something I am going to consciously look for going forward.

Week 21 – Extreme Subject Placement

The 21st Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Extreme Subject Placement. When talking about subject placement when it comes to Photography or art in general, the rule of thumb is to never center the subject or place them in extreme positions. The default composition technique or the one that is used most often is what’s called the Rule of Thirds. That was one of the first challenges in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge.

Anyone looking at my portfolio will easily see that the Rule of Thirds is a comp technique that I use quite often. No matter how often it is used, I feel that it is still a very effective comp technique. Something that I will definitely continue to use no matter how many techniques I learn. Another of the placements was to put the subject dead-center. This to me was relatively easy and lot of scenes naturally lend itself to centering the subject.

This week’s challenge was a bit more difficult. Unless the scene calls for it, how do you put the main subject of the photo in an ‘extreme’ location within the frame. I didn’t want to place my subject in a particular location within the frame just for the sake of this challenge. To me, that would defeat the purpose of my challenge. The goal is to learn different composition techniques so I know what comp to use when.

As I was looking through my shots, I found one from my trip to Walton Lighthouse that I didn’t flag for processing before. The photo looked good so I wondered why I didn’t flag it the first go-around. I realized that on both sides of the frame, there were distracting elements, which would prove to be a challenge to remove in PhotoShop. I liked the colors in the photo; so, I decided to give it a shot.

I processed the photo using my usual LR & PS Workshop and loved the colors but the sides were still distracting. The only way to make this photo was to crop the photo to remove the distracting elements. When I was doing my crop, I realized that I’ll have to put the Lighthouse in the extreme right for the crop to work. This also pushed the light source to the far left.

The moment I placed both subjects – the lighthouse and the light source in the two corners, the comp seemed to work. At least, I liked it a lot. Once the crop was done, I also realized that this satisfies the challenge for week 21, which is extreme subject placement. I know one of the challenge is to crop a photo to achieve a desirable composition and I think this would also satisfy that challenge. Well, I am sure I’ll have other photos that I’ll have to crop to achieve desired outcome.

Sunset Splash!

Location: Beach Hollow State Beach, Pescadero 
Time: Golden Hour
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS USM | 19mm | f/16 | 1/250s | ISO 100

I have been meaning to visit Bean Hollow Beach for a while but never got a chance. The opportunity presented itself when Pescadero came up as one of the favored areas for Sunset. What a friend and I decided to do was to hit several spots before settling down in a place for Sunset. We went to Gray Hound Rock Beach, which was purely a scouting exercise. That’s a beach I’d love to go back to for Sunrise, Sunset, or even MW.

One of the stops was Bean Hollow Beach, which is north of Pigeon Point Lighthouse. When we went there, the Sun was still pretty high up. We already started seeing colors so we were hoping that it will be a good Sunset. Apparently, there are two entrances for Bean Hollow Beach, which are a few miles apart. The first spot we stopped wasn’t what we had in mind when we thought about Bean Hollow Beach.

We got down to the beach to explore and I started taking some test shots. As I was taking some test shots, waves stared crashing in one of the small sea stacks. I wanted to capture the crashing waves but was struggling with the comp. I then decided to line up the setting Sun behind the waves and on the right third. I had to try several tries before I got a good wave action. I kept firing and and luckily on one of my shots, I got a good wave action. This is not the biggest wave that crashed that evening but the biggest and sharpest I captured.

From a processing stand-point, the biggest challenge was deciding the WB. I had to strike the right balance between the scene being too warm or too cold. After playing around with the WB for a few minutes, I set on what was appealing to me and how the scene felt to me when I was standing there taking this shot. From there, the processing in LR was pretty straight-forward; just my usual workflow.

Week 20 – Horizontal Line

The Challenge for Week 20 of my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Horizontal Line. What I realized when I did some research on Horizontal Line in Landscape Photography is that we use horizontal lines in our photography more than we (at least I) realize. There’s most likely at least 1 implied horizontal line in most landscape photographs – the horizon. Other than horizon, there are other examples of horizontal lines – fallen trees, waves, oceans, sleeping people, etc. All these subjects somehow show a sense of stability, rest, and timelessness.

Horizontal lines tend to indicate a sense of homeostasis (lack of change). Horizontal lines can be used when you want to impart a sentiment of timelessness or lack of change to an image. The horizon is stable, dependable and immovable, and for these reasons, horizons become the ultimate example of horizontal line. Horizontal lines are also relaxing and quiet.

When I thought about horizontal lines, I knew I’ll head to the beach and use the horizon as the horizontal line as well as use waves as horizontal lines. When the opportunity to go to Capitola Wharf presented itself, I knew I had the chance to use the Wharf as another horizontal line.

So, after taking several shots from different locations using Wharf in the Foreground, I decided to move to a location where I put the Wharf horizontally across the frame. I see multiple horizontal lines in play in this photo – waves in the foreground, wharf, horizon, and the mountains in the background. I thought this would make a good example of Horizontal Line for this week’s challenge.

Mariner’s Guardian!

Location: Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero
Time: Golden Hour
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 11mm | f/16 | 10s | ISO 100

One of the last shots from the Pigeon Point Lighthouse rendezvous. As I mentioned in my previous posts, where to go when Escaype prediction is good for multiple location is a constant challenge. After a lot of back & forth, we decided to head to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. On the way, we stopped by a couple of other spots, which were more of a scouting spot than anything else. Although, I did manage to get one keeper from Bean Hollow Beach.

We did get to Pigeon Point Lighthouse a bit late. We were debating whether to stay at Bean Hollow Beach or go to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. After we made a decision, it was a scramble to get to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. When we got there, the colors were already popping. The first stop we made wasn’t quite right so we drove to the Lighthouse parking lot and ran to a spot that we thought would be a good starting point.

When we got there, we saw someone trying to get his drone up. I had a feeling it was one of the Escaype members from my group and as guessed it was. We really didn’t have any time to talk to each other. I tried multiple locations and the shots looked pretty decent in the camera LCD but what I have learned is that the damn LCD can never be trusted 🙂

The colors were fading and we decided to head out. But as always, I wanted to get one last shot so I setup my tripod and decided to try a shot that I have wanted to for a while. Ideally, I’d like to execute this shot again when the Sun is in the frame. I have seen similar shots with Sun in the frame so I need to do a bit research to see when that’ll happen.

As for this shot, it was pretty straight-forward. I shot at f/16 to get a deep DOF and used a 10s shutter speed to smooth the water and get wispy clouds. Post Processing was pretty straight-forward as well; just my usual workflow.