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New Photography: Kauai Beaches & Kokee State Park

Opaekaa Falls, KauaiOpaekaa Falls, Kauai
Mamiya RZ67, Fuji Velvia Film
Click Any Image for Larger View

I don't get to travel as much as I'd like to. Being self-employed means a lot of freedoms, but paid vacations isn't one of them. If I'm not in my Orange County office delivering private photography lessons or photography classes, then I'm not paying bills. But thankfully, the geographic flexibility of delivering my online photography courses recently helped make it possible for me to take a much-anticipated trip to Kauai, Hawaii this past month.

I've been dying to visit Kauai for years. All the pictures I'd seen previously made it look like a photographer's paradise. So with my Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera and a bag full of Fuji Velvia film, my lovely lady and I set out to see the sights of this beautiful island.

Now I'll be honest, Kauai was not what I expected. I went in to this trip thinking it'll be a "drinking Mai-Tai's on white sand beaches and taking dips in the warm, calm waters of the Pacific" kind of a trip. Well, it wasn't. To be honest, I found Kauai beaches, although beautiful, to be a little bit of a letdown. But again, they're gorgeous, but they didn't seem to be real conducive to swimming and snorkeling. Sure, there's the beach at Poipu, but I can visit over-crowded, over-developed beaches here in Orange County.

The bottom line is that every beach we visited in Kauai was either pummeled with winds, plagued with riptides, or the waves were just way too powerful. Also, the water really wasn't that warm.

But again, don't get me wrong. The beaches were gorgeous. Just not the kind of Maui-sippin'-tropical-drinks kind of beaches we were looking for. I went in with the wrong expectations, that's all. And of course, upon our return, we had people telling us "oh well none of those beaches are good for swimming, but you didn't check out [insert some Kauai beach]!" Yeah, yeah...

Kauai is excellent for scenery, river kayaking, sightseeing and kayaking (all of which we did). The Napali coast alone should be on your bucket list. The waterfalls, Waimea Canyon, the lush north end of the island, the rivers...Kauai has stunning scenery. But my favorite aspect of the island was the weather. I love scattered cumulous clouds and I love rain. Kauai delivered both with gusto. Especially the clouds. Man-oh-man do I love the clouds in Kauai. You get tons of fair weather cumulous clouds. Those are those picturesque low-altitude puffy white clouds scattered throughout the deep blue sky. Just stunning for photographs - especially at sunrise and sunset.

The pictures here comprise the first couple days of our trip. I took the vast majority of my shots on the beach right outside our hotel on the eastern side of the island. Why? Well, because it was a 2-minute walk from my bed. No, but really...I didn't take too many photos on the north end or the south end because sunrise and sunset wouldn't work too well in those directions. Would have loved to shoot sunset on the west side of the island, but that's the Napali coast, which seemed all but inaccessible to us.

Every beach photo you see here is at sunrise. Truthfully, I don't feel that I'm breaking any ground with these compositions. Many of them are similar to each other and they certainly aren't anything unique from my previous beach work. But the skies and sand were simply too beautiful to not do these classic compositions.

Kauai Beaches at sunriseKauai Beaches, Eastern Shore, Sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Sunrise in Kauai

B&W Beach at Sunrise

Kauai Beaches at Sunrise

But my favorite shots from the trip came at Kokee State Park on the western side of Kauai. We found a great little cascade pouring through the vibrant red-colored rock that reminded me of southern Utah. And at the very end of the road is an overlook that absolutely blew my mind. It's called Pu'u o Kila Lookout and it has a view overlooking Kalalau Valley that will take your breath away. Steep cliffs tower over the shores below like green skyscrapers. And this happens to be near one of the wettest spots on earth, Wai'ale'ale.

It was a real treat to photograph this valley in the light of the western sun.

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai Sheets of rain over Kalalau Valley

Kokee State Park, Kauai

Waterfall in Kauai

Stay tuned for part 2 of this trip with more pictures from Kauai beaches!

New Landscape Photography: San Onofre Beach at Sunset


Sunset at San Onofre Beach

Sunset at San Onofre Beach
4" at f/25, Fuji Velvia 50, Lee 3-stop grad ND + Lee 1-stop grad ND
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Last month a friend of mine and I went for a sunset shoot at San Onofre Beach in Southern CA. I'm generally a "lone wolf" when it comes to doing landscape photography because I enjoy the solitude, but Eric and I are very much simpatico when it comes to style, methodology, and philosophy (check out Eric Bryan's amazing photography at ericbryan.net).

San Onofre Beach is unlike any other in Southern California. You won't find long stretches of white sandy beaches here. Much of the beach is riddled with smooth, round boulders the size of...uh, I dunno, like a volleyball but a little smaller. I clearly know nothing about sports...

But anyway, this beach is gorgeous and generally empty. Not exactly easy to navigate this rocky shore, but the views are unbeatable. And looking inland, the shore is flanked by some stately red-sand cliffs that are quite breathtaking under sunset light.

On this shoot, I opted for the wide 6x17 format using Fuji Velvia 50 film. Now I gotta be honest...the photos are a little too dark for my liking. It's partly that I just overestimated how dark I wanted it to be, but here's the thing about Velvia 50 film: it's rated at ISO 50, but it really isn't 50. Based on my experiments and analyzation, I need to rate it more like ISO 33 or 25 in order to get accurate metering. I did ISO 33 here. I should have done 25.

And here's the other thing: my Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5 lens exhibits some serious light falloff at the edges. Every wide angle lens on 6x17 format does. And I didn't have a center ND filter for this evening's shoot. That meant the edges came out much darker than I anticipated. The center of the frame looks spot on in regards to exposure, but the edges came out too dark. And since Velvia 50 is so contrasty, that 1 to 1-1/3 stops of light falloff at the edges looks major.

Sunset at San Onofre Beach

Post-Sunset at San Onofre Beach
20" at f/22, Fuji Velvia 50, Lee 3-stop grad ND
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I overestimated on my metering, I used a little too much split ND, I should have rated the film at ISO 25, I needed a center ND filter. Excuses excuses. Oh well. I'll do better next time. And I just picked myself up a sweet center ND filter off eBay to remedy the light falloff issue. It was a steal at $275. Center ND filters are ridiculously expensive. They usually run about $400-$500 used.

The composition could use some improvement, too. But it's time to stop flogging myself. The photos are actually pretty solid. I'm happy with them. It's just that inner photography teacher coming out of me.

The shot at top was made right as the sun dipped to the horizon. The second image was a little after sunset. Please click the images for larger views. These images are pointless unless you can see all the details.

New Work: Cress Street Beach

Sunset in Laguna Beach, CASunset at Cress Street Beach in Laguna Beach, CA
Fuji Provia 100F film - 30" at f/45
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I made the photo featured here back in January in Laguna Beach, CA. Laguna has some beautiful beaches, but in the summertime it's a circus down there. It makes shooting landscapes damn near impossible without getting a sea of umbrellas and beach towels in the shot. January makes this challenge a little easier.

But who am I kidding? Shooting at Orange County beaches is always aggravating. I guess my 6'2" frame, my giant tripod, and my enormous wooden camera aren't enough to let people know that "I'm taking a picture in this general direction so please don't walk through my frame." Maybe I should post a sign and police caution tape to finally get their attention.

Of course I'm not one of those self-entitled photographers that thinks the scenery belongs to me simply because I have a camera. I recognize that the beach belongs to all of us and no one should have more right to use it than anyone else...which is why I never say anything to anyone getting in my shot. But I mean come on, would it kill you, shirtless tourist, to take a 5-foot detour behind my camera as you stroll at a snail's pace along the sand? And don't get me started on paddle-boarders.

But enough ranting. Let me tell you about this shot.

I made this image on the beach just off of Cress Street near my gallery. I was pleased to see that the sand level was very low, revealing some beautiful boulders that I'd use in the foreground. And by judging the cloud cover, I figured the sunset would have some decent color to it, too. I made this image on Fuji Provia 100F film, but I wish I'd had Velvia 50 that night. Provia has a nice magenta tinge to it that worked well on this shot, but Velvia's color palette is much more vibrant. Oh well. I used a 3-stop split ND filter to hold detail in the sky and at an aperture of f/45, my shutter speed came out to 30 seconds. My Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5 lens gave me the wide view I needed to include the rocks.

This puppy is also on display right now in my gallery. If you're in Laguna, stop in to Artist Eye Gallery and check it out. It looks nice printed up big.