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.

Week 19 – Center the Subject

The challenge for Week 19 of my 52 week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is to center the subject. Anyone that has read a book or read an article or watched any tutorials on Photography Composition knows that one of the first things ‘rules’ of Photography is to ‘never’ place your subject in the center. One of the first ‘rules’ of composition that you’ll find in any Photography Book is the Rule of Thirds.

The Rule of Thirds have worked extremely well for a very long time. The masters of art have successfully used the Rule of Thirds effectively. And, the Rule of Thirds works wonders in Landscape Photography. But, should the Rule of Thirds be used in every single photo you take? Are there times where you place your subject in the middle of the frame? Of course, there are.

For example, anytime you are taking reflection, where symmetry is key, one of the things you have to do is put the horizon in the middle. Not doing so will actually make the photo look out of whack. The bottom half of the image mirrors the top, creating symmetry which makes the photo pleasing.

We have heard this before. Rules are meant to be broken. However, you need to know the rule well enough to know when to break the rules. Not centering your subject is generally a good idea unless centering your subject will actually enhance the subject, make it easy to convey your key message, and improve the overall composition. Reflection is one perfect example where putting the subject and the horizon in the center makes sense. There are many other. It is up to us a Photographers to decide what makes in a particular situation.

For this week’s challenge, I took this reflection of Walton Lighthouse during Sunrise. I have shot Walton Lighthouse from multiple angles. I have shot reflection of Walton Lighthouse from different angles as well. This particular shot, I purposefully decided to put the Lighthouse and the Horizon in the center of the frame. The reflection naturally called for centering the subject and horizon but I did try multiple comps and this is what appealed to me the most.

Blazing Glow!

Location: Almaden Lake Park, San Jose
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/8 | 1s | ISO 100

Almaden Lake Park is my go-to location for Sunset if there’s no other plan. As a matter of fact, one of the first locations that I went to when I wanted to get serious about Landscape Photography was Almaden Lake Park. Another one of those locations that’s minutes away from home but didn’t even know about.

Even when I used to do a lot of bird photography, Almaden Lake Park never came up in my research. I primarily went to Palo Alto Baylands, Charlston Slough, Lake Elizabeth, among other places. When I went to Almaden Lake Park, there were so many birds – Night Heron, Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, etc. Why I didn’t know about this lake, I’ll never know.

Anyways, this was one of those days where inland areas had decent prediction. My first thought was to head to Santa Teresa Park and hike up the hill to the lone tree I have shot before or find another lone tree. Sowmya didn’t like that idea as there were reports of rattle snake in the park and she didn’t want me to go off-trail. We heard in the news that a guy got bit by rattlesnake at Fremont Peak; luckily, medics came in few minutes and saved his life.

So, Santa Teresa Park was out of question. I went to Hellyer Park a few weeks back and due to the amount of water, I wasn’t able to get a good comp. We decided to go to our ‘go-to’ place, Almaden Lake Park. As I mentioned, it’s a place I’ve been to plenty of times and have shot both Sunrise and Sunset. There’s always something new at Almaden Lake Park. As a matter of fact, that’s how I feel about any location. I don’t understand when some of my non-Photography friends ask me why I go to take photos of Sunrise or Sunset as they say – ‘it’s the same Sunrise’ or ‘haven’t you been there before?’.

To me, Photography gives me the opportunity and pleasure to visit so many places and experience so many things. While I enjoy capturing moments through my viewfinder, I have learned to take some time to enjoy the scene that unfolds in front of me. So, even though I’ve been to Almaden Lake so many times, I will always go whenever I get an opportunity. Even if I don’t take any photos, I’ll happily enjoy the Sunset with Sowmya. We’ve been to the park so many times just to take a walk and enjoy the nature.

When I got to the Lake, I knew the location I wanted to go to and the type of shot I wanted to try. I have seen a lot of driftwood in one location so I wanted to see if I can use that as part of my comp. There lot of bugs everywhere so I was a bit hesitant to go to the lake shore but I decided to go ahead anyway. Sowmya was sitting on one of the park benches and started talking to her mom & sis.

I found the comp (or I should say, I created) that I liked. I sat down on the floor and setup my tripod. I started firing away. I put a ND Filter and tried some Long Exposure shots. In terms of colors, there definitely were colors but I wouldn’t say it was a spectacular burn. It was beautiful, nevertheless.

In terms of processing, I just followed my normal workflow in Lightroom and cleaned up some unwanted items in Photoshop.

Brilliancy of Colors

Location: Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/8 | 1/3s | ISO 100

Another shot from my recent trip to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. After I took several shots from the corner to as much of the burn as possible, I decided to move around to try different compositions.

One of the spots that I stopped was where I could use the picket fence as leading line. I have tried this before but not with too much luck as weather didn’t cooperate. This time around, I knew that the weather cooperated; sky was literally on fire. The question was whether I’d be able to include the colorful sky in my comp. One of the challenges when I go to a location is to find interesting comp. Not a unique comp per se but something interesting that I can try. I am going through a 52-week Photography Composition Challenge and my primary goal is to learn different compositional techniques.

There’s  lot of discussion about how you differentiate your photos from others. Everyone wants to get something new; something unique. I guess the feeling is natural. Everyone wants to be different. No one wants to comp-stomp. As far as I am concerned, I am still at a stage where I am learning Photography and one of the best ways for me to learn is to look at photos from other Photographers and try to emulate it. I don’t mean to say that I’ll copy other’s photos but take inspiration from their work. What I’d like to consider as paying homage. To me, there’s nothing wrong with taking someone else’s comp as there’s only so much you can do in a particular location.

To me, one of the best ways to differentiate your works is through post processing. Think about it. When you visit Yosemite National Park and go to the world famous Tunnel View, especially during Golden Hour, you’ll see anywhere 10 to 100 Photographers. Or, think about the Firefall spectacle. You’ll find hundreds of Photographers in one location. How much variation can you really achieve in your comp? However, how you process your photos can produce a completely different result compared to the Photographer who stood right next to you.

Anyways, getting off the soapbox and on to this photo. The sky was still burning and I went to this spot where I thought I’d use the picket fence as leading line and put the Lighthouse on the third. I was able to include the burning sky in my frame. I bracketed 3 shots so I merged the photos in Lightroom and followed my usual workflow.

Burst of Radiance!

Location: Carrizo Plains National Monument, California
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/16 | 1/15s | ISO 100

One of those days where Escaype predicted high potential/zero skunk for northern areas with no fog. So, it wasn’t a question of whether I was going out but as usual, the question was where. One of my buddies pinged me and we started the back & forth. We have done this several times before. We keep debating about which location to go until the very last minute. Going forward, we should just pick one and go. It’s not like we only get one shot at this; if not today, we can go another day.

So, the debate was between SF and Pescadero. The last few times we went to both locations when predications were high, we got skunked. After a lot of back & forth, we decided to head to Pescadero. Even though the forecaster’s note said north is preferred, we thought Pescadero is north enough and we’ll see a good burn. All I got the last 2 or 3 trips to Pescadero were yellow skies. I hoped and wished for a colorful Sunset.

Now that we decided on going to Pescadero, the question was where specifically in Pescadero. We had multiple options – Piegon Point, Bean Hollow Beach, and Pescadero State Beach. Since all 3 locations were within 10 minutes of each other, we decided to start at Bean Hollow and decided where to go. Since we got skunked the last few times, both of us were skeptical as to whether or not it’ll be a good show.

I headed to my friends place as the plan was for me to park my car there and go with him to Pescadero. I got caught in some heavy traffic on Highway 17 but it was expected. I got to my friends place as planned and we hit the road right away. Since we had plenty of time for Sunset, we decided to check out Greyhound Rock Beach on the way.

The hike down to Grey Hound Beach wasn’t too bad. It took us about 10 minutes to get down to the beach. It was super windy. There was hardly anyone in the beach. We knew that the time was not right to get any good shots as the Sun was pretty harsh. But this was more of a scouting detour than anything else. With so much wind, it was hard to even keep our eyes open; sand was flying everywhere. We walked around a bit and experimented with a few shots. After about 20 minutes on the beach we decided to head back. Obviously, the hike up was a bit more difficult but it wasn’t bad at all.

From Grey Hound Rock Beach, we headed straight to Bean Hollow Beach. We pulled into a beach where we saw signs for Bean Hollow. But that turned out to be the first entrance. We wanted to go to the second one. After a few experimental shots, we drove to the 2nd location. The beach was filled with rocks. Not really big sea stacks but lot of rocks with interesting texture. Bean Hollow is a very unique beach; I can’t quite explain what I saw. Many of the rocks had holes in them and the holes were filled with pebbles.

With some difficulty, we got down to a place where we thought will be good to setup our tripods. It was high tide and the waves started getting bigger by the minute. We spent about 20 to 25 minutes there trying different shots. We started seeing colors pop in the sky. We had a feeling the clouds were going to light up. The question now was to decide whether to stay where we were or to head to Pigeon Point. Honestly, I didn’t like the comp at Bean Hollow. There’s so many rocks, it’s hard to isolate anything. If we spent enough time there, I am sure we would have come up with some good comp. But, both of us agreed that we should head to Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

The drive took less than 10 minutes. We first went to the location that we usually shoot from, which is about a mile or so south of the Lighthouse. When we got there, we realized that the Sun and all the colors that were happening would not be in our frame at all due to the angle. Here came another question. Should we stay and try our luck or head to the Lighthouse and shoot from there. We decided to head to the Lighthouse.

As soon as we parked the car, we took our gear and ran to one corner of the Lighthouse property where we thought would be a good spot to capture most of the burn. Oh yeah, the burn already started and it was simply superb. It was one of the best Sunsets that I’ve seen and definitely THE best Sunset from Pigeon Point. When we got to the spot, I saw a young guy with his parents. I assume he was one of the guys from my Escaype group but I didn’t want to start a conversation. I started firing away.

Moving a few feet, I realized that the Sun was going behind one of the hostel buildings and I decided to go for the starburst. Unfortunately, there was so much dust and moisture on my lens that I kept getting halos. I did get starburst but not a clean one. I decided to switch my lens and give it a shot but by that time, the Sun went behind the building.

I knew I can add the starburst in post processing. It may not look ‘real’ to some trained eyes but I decided to give it a shot. I went through my normal workflow in Lightroom and then took the photo to Photoshop to add the star as well as clean up the photo. I posted the photo in my Escaype group and got some good feedback, which I incorporated.

After posting the shot, I now realize that the star wasn’t needed after all. The photo by itself would have still been spectacular. Lesson learned! I probably won’t add starburst in post anymore.

Week 18 – Urbanscape

The Challenge for Week 18 of my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Urbanscape/Cityscape. Over the course of last year, I have done some cityscapes. I definitely enjoy shooting cityscapes. Somehow the city lights portrays the hustle and bustle of the city life. Even though I have tired shooting SF Cityscape a couple of times, I’d say I have not been very successful. I did get one shot during a sunrise visit to Embarcedero but my trip to Treasure Island wasn’t very successful.

When I thought about this challenge, the first thought that came to mind was to head to SF to shoot the beautiful skyline. Another thought was to shoot the Boston Skyline.  The challenge was Urbanscape so I decided to do a bit of research on what is a definition of an Urbanscape. What I have realized is that Urbanscape; at least Urbansacpe Photography is a bit difficult to define as it sits between a number of different genres of photography – cityscapes, architecture, street photography, etc.

So, I was looking for a creative way to take on this week’s challenge. When I wen to Sierra Open Preserve in San Jose, I knew that the city lights will come on right after golden hour. I knew I wanted to take a shot of the hustle & bustle of Silicon Valley from the top of the hill. Although, I didn’t know what my comp would be.

For the majority of the time while at Sierra Open Preserve, my goal was to find a good comp for Sunset. After the Sun set behind the horizon, I started looking for comp ideas for the Urbanscape challenge.

I saw this scene where the sky was burning on one side and beautiful colors were happening on the others. The foregound was beautiful greenery and middle-ground was the Silicon Valley citylights. Not a ‘textbook’ definition of Urbanscape but to me, this definitely fits the bill. The busyness of the city can be seen from the hill top, where it was so peaceful and serene. It not only shows the city life but also that calm and serenity is just minutes away. I liked the yin/yang relationship here.

 

Bridge to the Galaxy!

Location: Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz
Time: Wee Hours of the morning
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM | 22mm | f/2.8 | 15s | ISO 4000

Milky Way Season is well underway here in the Northern Hemisphere and I’ve gone out to shoot the Milky Way every opportunity I got. Some successful outing and others turned out to be complete failures. The first Milky Way outing to Shark Fin cove turned out to a failure. Based on weather predictions, the sky was supposed to be clear in the Santa Cruz coast to shoot the Milky Way. What we heard was that even if there are clouds, it can be easily ‘avoided’. So, one of my photography buddies came to my place around 2:00 in the morning. We then headed to pick up another friend of ours on the way to Shark Fin.

One of the problems with shooting Milky Way early in the season is that the core rises in the wee hours of the morning. Your sleep that night is basically gone as you’ll have to be out of the door around 1:00 and be back only around 6:00 or 7:00. Anyways, when we got to Shark Fin, we realized clouds completely covered the Milky Way. We waited for about 20 minutes to see if it clears but it didn’t get any better. We decided to drive north to see if the clouds can be ‘avoided’ but it didn’t work. We couldn’t see the Milky Way at all. I came back home empty handed.

I went on a couple of other Milky Way trips since then and I was able to get a couple of great shots but still so much learn. Hence the decision to go out every opportunity I get so I can come back with at least 1 shot after every trip. A few of us decided to head to Natural Bridges to shoot the Milky Way and from there also head to Shark Fin and hit two locations. I knew it was possible to do that. I got the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM lens, which I wanted to try shooting the Milky Way. So, I was looking forward to the outing. Also, I learned about stacking photos to reduce noise so I wanted to give that a shot as well.

One of my friends picked me up and we headed to Natural Bridges. Two others were meeting us there. We got there early and waited for the other two to arrive. Once we were all there, we went down to the beach. The Milky Way didn’t quite line up with the Natural Bridge or the arch rock to be specific. But, we knew that we could kind of align it if we moved to the corner of the beach.

I manually focused on one of the bright stars and started firing away. The checked the shots and it seemed to be sharp. So, I started stacking my shots. I moved around quite a bit but since I was on manual focus, I didn’t bother to change my focus or zoom at 100% on the LCD to see if the shots were sharp. Looking at the LCD, I knew the Milky Way was sharp on several of the shots. I wasn’t so sure about the Foreground.

The next morning, I started processing my photos and tried several stacks to see if I can come up with a clean shot. Somehow, many of the stacked shots individually were good but when merged, were either misaligned or out of focus. I kept at it for several hours but nothing really solid came up. I really need to figure out a way to stack images properly.

Anyways, after several hours of trying, I decided to process a single raw image to see what I can do with it. To my surprise, that actually yielded much better results compared to my stacking efforts. This is a single shot processed in Lightroom primarily. I didn’t do much (if anything) in Photoshop with this photo.

Not the sharpest or the cleanest of shots but a good try. Since this outing, I have learnt a lot about planning, shooting, and processing the Milky Way. All theoretical. I now need to use what I’ve learned on my next Milky Way outing. I need to come up with at least 2 or 3 clean Milky Way shots in May.

Road to Painted Hills

Location: Carrizo Plains National Monument, California
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 80mm | f/11 | 1/500s | ISO 100

Another shot from my trip to Carrizo Plains National Monument. So many beautiful places in California that I didn’t even know about. It’s funny how we live in a place for so many years but not know about many of beautiful places. Over the course of last year and half, I have been to so many different places, experienced and enjoyed so many different things, all thanks to Photography; more importantly, the Photography Group that I am part of.

I mentioned this to one of my photography buddies and he said he has lived in the Santa Cruz area for more than 2 decades but didn’t even know so many places even existed. I recently got a book from Library about Photography; specifically, different photography locations/spots in California. Wow! So many different places that I had no clue about. I don’t think I’ll be able to cover even 25% of the places listed on that book. I may hit many of the areas but not all the spots in a particular area.

One such place that I had no idea about was Carrizo Plains National Monument. As soon as I saw photos of the place, I wanted to go. I also heard that this year was a super bloom and there were lot more flowers this year than in the past. I should have gone as soon as I heard about this place but I waited and I missed out. Well, I didn’t miss out completely but had I gone a couple of weeks before, I would have seen lot more colors.

Anyways, on the way to Carrizo, we decided to stop on Highway 58 as we have seen some great shots from there. The first spot we stopped on Highway 58 was to shoot the long, straight, up & down road leading to the Hills filled with Wildflowers.

After that stop, we stopped several times to shoot different scenes along Highway 58. One such location yielded to this shot. The first one was long, straight, up & down road leading to vast hills. This one was also from the middle of the road but to hills much closer but fully covered with Wildflowers. I loved this scene so I took several shots. Some in landscape orientation and some in portrait orientation. I bracketed my shots so I can get maximum dynamic range. I stood in the middle of the Highway to take my shots while my buddies watched for oncoming cars. We took turns shooting from the middle of the road and watching for cars.

From a processing stand-point, I first tried making the scene very vibrant, which yielded in a more organe-ish scene. I dialed it back and brought it to more of a natural yellow that I saw while I was there.

 

Calero Sunset

Location: Highway 58, California
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/11 | 2s | ISO 100

One of those days where inland was projected to have better potential with low skunk compared to the coast. The quintessential question was where inland should I go to catch the Sunset. For some reason, Calero County Park comes up as default selection when I open the Escaype App. I have been meaning to check out Calero County Park for a while but never got a chance.

Actually, I did drive up to Calero County Park in the wee hours of the morning several weeks back to catch the Sunrise but turned back after going to the park. It was pitch dark and I didn’t want to really wander in a place that I haven’t been to before; especially when it was pitch dark.

When Calero County Park came up with high potential, I decided to head out. The forecaster’s note did say that there won’t be a lot of different colors; the sky will be golden. I decided to check it out as I wanted to see what I can get a Calero County Park.

Sowmya was planning to go to one of our friend’s place for dinner so I dropped Sowmya off at our friends place and headed to Calero County Park. It took less than 20 minutes for me to get there. I put directions to Calero County Park on my phone and it took me to the County Park. What I realized was that the reservoir is several miles west of the park and has a different entrance. So, after few minutes of walking to see if I can get a good comp, I decided to get back on my car and head to the reservoir.

When I got to the reservoir, I went straight to the parking lot as the ranger station was closed. I then saw a Park Ranger so I asked her where the pay station was. She pointed me to the Pay Station but asked if just got here. When I told her that I just got here, she said not to worry about paying as it was pretty close to Sunset and the park will be closed about 10 minutes after Sunset.

I thanked her and headed to the lake bank. I saw lots of shells so I decided to go as low as I can and see if I can use that in my foreground. I soon realized that it did not work at all; very dirty and distracting. Sun was going behind the hills so I decided to get some starburst. It didn’t work out as well as I hoped; even after putting my ND Filter, it didn’t work out well. I then started walking up and down to see what comp I can get. I was also looking to see what comp I can create.

I saw this driftwood so I decided to position it in line with the setting Sun to form a leading line. I decided to go with Long Exposure to smooth out the water. I tried several frames with the driftwood. I then moved around a bit to get different shots. I kept walking along the lake ban to take different shots. I wasn’t really happy with any of the shots that I got but I was focused on enjoying the Sunset and make the best out of the situation to take a bunch of shots.

As it got darker, I heard the Park Ranger’s horn, which I assumed was warning for people still in the park to head out as they’d be closing the park. I took a few more shots and decided to call it a day. Moreover, there were so many bugs all around and I didn’t want to catch anything. My shoes got completely wet and muddy as well.

I went straight to my friends place for dinner. We spent several hours there and then went back home. I loaded my photos to my Hard Drive but didn’t import it to Lightroom as it was pretty late and I was tired.

The next day, I imported my photos to Lightroom and checked to see if there were any keepers. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the photos. So, I decided to move on to photos from other photo shoots. For several weeks, I didn’t even look at the Photos from Calero. I was caught up with most of my other photo shoots so I decided to go back to the Calero shoot to see if I can make someone of the 2 dozen or more photos I took.

I found one frame that I liked but didn’t like where the driftwood was placed. What I decided to was something I haven’t done before and honestly have shied away from. I did my normal workflow in Lightroom and then took the photo to Photoshop, where I moved the driftwood where I wanted. I also took a couple of driftwoods from one of my other frames and added it to this to make the comp a bit more interesting.

This level of manipulation is something I’ve never done nor even thought about. I did it for multiple reasons: 1) to see if I can actually do it in Photoshop and 2) to see if I can actually salvage a photo that was technically sound but wasn’t attractive.

I don’t think I’ll be doing this often but always good to have the skills in your arsenal.

Week 16 – Foreground

The challenge for week 16 of my 52 week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Foreground. The goal for this week is to shoot a scene with a strong foreground element. The moment I saw Cala Lilies, I knew it would make a perfect example of a strong foreground element.

One of the things I have learned about Photography Composition is that a grand landscape can be divided into three sections: the foreground, mid-ground, and the background. Not all photos need to have all three elements to be successful. However, thinking about the three elements and placing them properly will definitely yield better results.

The scene in front of us is three-dimensional but the photos we take of that scene are not three-dimensional. They are two-dimensional. The challenge is to bring three-dimensionality into the two-dimensional photos. One way to create depth is to use a strong foreground/mid-ground/background elements.

What I have started doing is to pay attention to not just the grand landscape that I am shooting but also to everything that’s in the frame. Are there any foreground elements that are distracting? Or, conversely, are there any foreground elements that add to the photo by adding a sense of scale? So, I have made it a goal to always check the entire frame to see if there’s anything that I need to eliminate. I also review the scene to see if there’s anything I can include.

What I have learned is that good foregrounds (or good photos for that matter) don’t just happen. We have to deliberately look for it and decide whether or not it makes sense to include in the frame.

For this week’s challenge, I shot the Calla Lilies and decided to put 3 lilies in the foreground as the main subject of the photo. I did take several shots of the overall valley showcasing the hundreds of lilies. For this particular shot, I wanted a few lilies to be the primary focus. There is a mid-ground, and a background. But in this photo, they become more of supporting elements. One could argue that the Foreground, Mid-Ground, and Background all add equal value in this photo. But to me, the primary subject is the lilies in the foreground.