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Photo a Day Challenge: Day 23

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 23 - Palm Trees in Laguna Beach on Ilford Delta 100 filmPalm Trees 1 - Laguna Beach, CA
Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 5:37pm
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Day 23 of my photo a day challenge brought me to Laguna Beach for a private photography lesson in Orange County with one of my long-time students. It was a beautiful day - classic southern California summer. The offshore breeze cooled my skin to the perfect temperature. I decided to seize the opportunity of being in Laguna Beach for my photo of the day. I brought my gear and showed up early to see what I could find.

Up on a cliff in Heisler Park, I found a great vantage point on these three palm trees perched along the Pacific Coast. These three trees were just too perfect to pass up. They were simple, picturesque, the light was hitting them perfectly, and there were three of them. Everything looks great in threes. And look at them, even their heights are staggered perfectly. It's like these trees were designed to be photographed.

Although the breeze was relatively mild down at my level, the palm tree fronds suspended high in the air seemed to be taking a bit of a pounding. I think the trees would have had a little bit better shape to them if the wind hadn't been so strong - it would have had more of a relaxed, calm, postcard-esque summer day feel rather than an offshore typhoon feel. But oh well. Details, details.

I moved around quite a bit left and right trying to get a hand railing out of the shot and trying to get a good balance between the three trees and the rock in the background. I opted for a Red #23A filter here to help darken the blue sky and water. I knew this would work to create some separation between the sunlit sides of the palm trees and the bright sky and water behind. My exposure was 1/125 at f/14.

And then I tried a similar composition, but horizontal. Because why not? I can't decide which one I like better.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 23 - Palm Trees and sky on Ilford Delta 100 filmPalm Trees 2 - Laguna Beach, CA
Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 5:49pm
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Read the backstory on this Photo A Day Challenge here. See previous days here.

Orange County Beaches: Cress Beach at Sunset

Orange County Beaches - Cress Street BeachCress Street Beach at Sunset
Fuji Velvia 50 Film - f/32 at 1 minute
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I complain a lot about Orange County for many reasons, but one thing I can't complain about is its beaches. Orange County beaches are gorgeous. Okay, okay...maybe not compared to the central coast of California. But for how accessible they are, they offer up some pretty great scenery. The only problem with them is the same problem with all of Orange County: crowds. You'll never find yourself all alone on a beach in OC (unless you sneak in to the state park at night).

The crowds make shooting panoramas at Orange County beaches a little tricky. With such an incredibly wide view, it's tough to avoid buildings, people, and foot prints. Compound that with trying to keep sea spray off my filters, sand getting in my bag, a rapidly dropping sun, and I've got myself a recipe for frustration. But luckily, experience is on my side with years of beach shooting behind me. I still sometimes botch a beach shoot now and then, but I'd say my batting average is decent enough.

I made this image on Fuji Velvia 50 film. For those unfamiliar, Fuji Velvia 50 is the gold standard for high-saturation landscape work. The colors are so rich that it can often make the scene look better than real life. It's contrasty and colorful - perfect for a sunset. But it's also a royal pain in the ass to work with. The contrast is so high that your exposure has to be spot on. This ain't no RAW file. If you make an error in your exposure by 2/3 of a stop, you're done.

But that's not what bothers me. What's really tough is how this film behaves at long exposures. It has some serious reciprocity failure issues. Reciprocity failure is a phenomenon where certain exposure times don't result in the expected exposure and color.

For instance, let's say you expose Velvia 50 at f/2.8 at 1/2 second and you get a correct exposure with accurate colors. Well, an equivalent exposure would be f/16 at 15 seconds. So you'd think, I'll just plug in f/16 and 15 seconds and I'll get the same exact exposure as before. That is how it works on digital cameras, after all. But because of reciprocity failure, the film doesn't behave the same way at 15" as it does at 1/2 exposures. Basically, the film doesn't soak up light with the same efficiency and the photo comes out darker than expected. To remedy this issue, you have to add exposure to that 15" shutter in order to compensate for the film's failure to soak up light. There are tables and calculations to help figure out the adjusted exposure time for each film (there's a great iPhone app called "Reciprocity Timer" that I use). For Velvia 50, a calculated exposure time of 15" actually needs a shutter speed of 26"! If your calculated shutter speed was 30", you'd actually need to shoot it at 1 minute!

But it doesn't end there. Aside from the adjustments you must make to the calculated exposure, the colors come out funky too! Anything longer than about 1" will result in color shifts. Velvia 50 happens to shift towards a magenta tone when used at ultra-long exposures. That's why the photo at top exhibits a purplish color cast. For some shooters, this color shift alone would be reason enough to not take the shot. But I'm a little more laid back with these things. I say let the color shift happen. Let it ride and see how it turns out. I think it creates a cool mood here. I'd say the composition is decent, but there are certainly flaws with this shot and a few things I would have done differently. Not one for the wall, but that's alright. They can't all be masterpieces.

Velvia 50 is like that super attractive but ultra-high maintenance girlfriend that you just can't break up with. Velvia 50, I love you, but sometimes you're a real pain in the ass.

New Photography: More Kauai Beaches

Kauai Beaches at sunrise Kauai Beach at Sunrise, East Shore
Fuji Velvia 50 film, Mamiya RZ67
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Continuing part 2 of my Kauai recap (see part 1 here), all of the photos in this post were taken on the same beach just outside my hotel on the eastern side of Kauai. As I stated in the previous post, Kauai beaches didn't end up being the recreational wonderlands I anticipated, but pair those trademark Kauai clouds with a good sunrise and I've got myself a photographer's paradise.

With the beach just outside our hotel and my internal clock still on LA time, waking up to photograph the rising sun was far from painful. And as I had hoped, the scattered cloud cover made from some vivid colors. One sunrise in particular was just stunning.

The only thing that was a real pain on these shoots was the sea spray. Now I'm no stranger to sea spray. I've photographed Orange County beaches countless times and I'm well familiar with the annoyance of salty mist settling on lenses and filters. But these waters were so damn choppy and the wind was so relentless that the sea spray all but ruined some of these photos. I had a hell of a time trying to keep my filters clean.

And speaking of filters, I utilized Lee hard-transition graduated neutral density filters in all of these photos. Some shots had 2 stops, some 3, some even 5. Early in the sunrise when the foreground was still in shadow, I needed some heavy filtration to darken the sky within range of the foreground. But as the sun worked its way up in the sky, the foreground saw some light and I was able to back the filters down to 2 or 3 stops.

The compositions here weren't anything new for me. I'd done almost identical compositions on my first couple days there, but the sky was so much more gorgeous in these shots that I really felt obligated to "redo" those same compositions with the new sky. Fuji Velvia medium format film rendered the colors beautifully. I utilized Velvia 100 and Velvia 50 films on this trip, alternating back and forth with each roll. Velvia 50 has a warmer color balance than Velvia 100 which made it perfect for the warm tones of sunrise. That's what I used in most of these shots. But Velvia 100 with its cooler tones and vivid greens worked well on the photos from the lush interior portions of the island. Both great films, but Velvia 100 is a little easier to work with.

This trip to Kauai was memorable, fun, and most of all, a learning experience. I learned that Kauai isn't the kind of island I expected it to be. Miles of white sandy beaches, gentle breezes, calm oceans, and warm waters...that's not Kauai. Kauai is a feast for the eyes. Kauai beaches are beautiful to look at, but few offer safe swimming or snorkeling. The Napali coast is a work of art, but you'll need a charted boat or a helicopter to get there. The north shore is lush and vibrant, but there aren't many places to get out and hike. The waterfalls are majestic, but some of the best of them are on private land. That's why I call Kauai "the island of inaccessibility." Charming towns, decent kayaking, interesting weather, and scenery that's simply unmatched anywhere else in the world. That's Kauai. But it doesn't offer the kind of beaches you see on those travel brochures with the good-looking middle-aged couple laying on lounge chairs on a white sand beach holding hands. I think that's more Maui's thing.

But hey, now I have an excuse to visit Maui again, so I can pit Maui vs Kauai in a death match of which island is better. For now, my conclusion is this: visit Kauai to drink in the gorgeous scenery, revel in the charming local vibe, see the sights, and kayak a river or two. But for that picturesque honeymoon type tropical vacation filled with relaxation, fruity drinks, perfect weather, and turquoise blue waters...you might want to try somewhere else.

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise