The dramatic Big Sur Coastline is one of California’s jewels. Wind and water erosion over the years have washed the right mineral components into the sea that create some of the most brilliant blue water. Combine that with some rocky coastline, sea arches, and waterfalls and you have some of the best photography around.
A group of 12 eager photographers met Joe Azure and I in Carmel California for a day of photography. After a brief orientation we went over some of the ways to set up the camera to shoot in manual mode, which we encourage participants to do. For some it’s an easy step, as they shoot in manual all the time…for others it feels daunting. Our goal is to try and provide as much or as little feedback as one needs, and put them in front of really great stuff to photograph.
Our first stop was the Carmel Mission. This location is one of the many California missions, and for many they drive right by it…there’s so much to photograph here…it’s a great place to cover a variety of photographic topics from composition to exposure. Repetition of shape, complimentary colors, contrast, abstract, there’s something here for every kind of composition…it’s a blast to walk around and see what people are capturing on their camera, and then offer up some help to allow them to see more.
In addition to all of the great architecture there are always flowers in bloom, and other foliage to incorporate into compositions, or make into a composition of their own. One of my favorite spots to show folks is the fountain with the blue and orange tiles…if folks shoot with a fast shutter speed, and shallow depth of field, then they are able to create some really awesome abstractions by just focusing on the surface of the water, and shooting the rings from the droplets that fall from the fountain, and consequently which also began to fall from the sky. The time flies by here, and while the rain was beginning in the mission the storm was centered in the north and we hoped to be able to outrun it by heading south.
After a brief stop for food and restrooms we made our way along the winding highway 1 to the marvelous McWay Falls. This has to be one of the most iconic waterfalls in California, possibly the United States. Situated in an idyllic cove of tropical blue water, on a white sand beach the waterfall pours out of the rocks onto the beach and drains into the ocean from there. It looks like something from a tropical location, not central California. We walked our group out to the best vantage points and then worked with them using grad filters and ND filters to help balance exposure.
This spot also offers a magnificent view of the coastline and we encourage folks to make sure they get some shots of the dramatic rocks and layers of this stretch of coastline, and not spend all their time on the waterfall, which is easy to do.
From McWay Falls we move back up the coast to Pfieffer Beach, one of the best and most iconic spots in the area. Here there is an iconic rock with a hole in it, and during this time of year the setting sun will shine through it, and create some dramatic light rays…the only problem is that the weather has to be perfect for this to happen, and that’s rare in winter. Luckily this spot is beautiful no matter what the weather, and we’re able to arrive, set up, and then set to work on gathering long exposures and working on trying out different exposure lengths to find out how it changes the look and feel of the image. Though we lacked some color in the sky, there were a lot of textures, and tonal value that could really make a nice monochrome image…I showed a few folks how to make that conversion on the camera so they could get a feel for what was possible in the processing stages.
As the light began to fade, our group of hearty photographers made our way back to the van where we enjoyed some cookies made by workshop participant Gina, Thanks Gina! As we made our way back to Carmel, the rain caught up with us again, and was a steady companion the whole drive back…but fortunately, it never derailed any of our shooting…
Thanks again to a great group of folks for making our Big Sur outing a lot of fun.
Until Next Time,
Brian, Joe, 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.