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Octopus Agave, Puffy Clouds, and Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film
Shot with a Fuji GA645Zi Camera

Click Images to Enlarge

There are three things I love - succulents, puffy white clouds, and Fuji Velvia 100 film. And when they all come together at the same time, that’s a perfect storm of good vibes.

This year’s El Nino has brought some great things to southern California. Of course, the extra precipitation is a godsend with the ongoing drought, but there are certain other side effects to El Nino that I’ve really enjoyed. First, this spring we’ve had a higher-than-normal share of days with what I call “the perfect sky.” It’s that crystal clear blue color behind a sea of fair-weather cumulus clouds - those herds of puffy cotton balls gently migrating across the sky. And second, El Nino has coaxed out some impressive spring blooms.

Back in March I found myself with some spare time on one of these “perfect sky” days, so I grabbed my delightfully fun-to-use Fuji GA645zi camera, loaded it up with Velvia 100 film, and ventured out to the Jeffrey Open Space Trail in Irvine. I went out with no plans of what exactly to shoot. All I knew was I wanted to incorporate the sky in some way.

The Jeffrey Open Space Trail is a developed walking trail with landscaping that features some very impressive succulents. As I ventured along the trail, I came across a cluster of Octopus Agave plants - an agave from Mexico with fleshy leaves that twist and crawl out from its core. Shooting up from the center of each plant was a long, slender spike about 15 feet tall, each wrapped in countless green-yellow bulbs. They were stunning. The flowers were not in full bloom on this day, but still, the unique shape and design of these plants were begging to be photographed.

I decided to concentrate my compositions on these alien-like spires shooting up into that Monet sky because I loved how unusual they looked. I excluded the base of these plants from my compositions to preserve the bizarreness of what stood before me. With no base to provide context, these spikes became even more curious. I kept my aperture relatively wide open to let the background blur out ever so slightly, further drawing attention to the plants against their backdrop. And that color palette of green-yellow, sky blue, and white…man, oh, man…Mother Nature really knows how to pair colors, doesn’t she?

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

For the film geeks out there, I want to tell you a little more about the camera. I bought this Fuji GA645zi off eBay as my “walking around” camera. My main landscape photography cameras are so big and slow to set up (a Shen Hao TFC 617-A and a Mamiya RZ67) that I decided I should carry a lightweight, point-and-shooter to fill in the gaps. This old camera has a lot of modern amenities including auto focus, auto exposure modes, flash, exposure compensation, and even a power zoom lens (albeit not a very wide focal length to work with).

Fuji GA645Zi Medium Format Camera

I have to say, I have fallen in love with this camera. The size is just right, it’s easy to use, and the power zoom function is great for fine-tuning composition. I use this camera most often in Program (P) mode or Aperture Priority (A) mode instead of full manual so I can concentrate on the composition instead of metering. The auto exposure meter has been very reliable. Exposures are often perfect and the exposure compensation lets me sway it when I know it’s going to make a mistake. This camera is flat-out fun to use, which might be the best reason to own a camera.

I learn something new or am reminded of an old lesson every time I take out my camera. On this occasion, I was reminded that I need to get out with my camera in-hand more often - no plan, no preconceived ideas of what to shoot - just get out with my camera and see what the world shows me. Because who knows when you’ll find a 15-foot tall alien plant against a perfect sky?

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

More Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA
More Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA
Please Click an Image to See it Bigger

My obsession with palm tree pictures continues, apparently. As I covered in a recent post, palm trees have dominated the majority of my photography lately. And I'm not getting tired of them. They have become my muse. It's as if within the past couple years I suddenly realized how special they are to me and my location. I guess I took them for granted my whole life having grown up in southern California, and now I'm catching up for lost time - giving them the appreciation they deserve.

I mean, come on, check out these amazing facts about palm trees:

  • There are around 2,700 different types of palm trees in the world (source)
  • The tallest palm tree can grow up to 197 feet tall! (source)
  • The coco de mer palm tree has the largest seeds of any plant on Earth - as large as 20 inches in diameter and as heavy as 66 pounds (source)

But aside from these fun facts, what other plant has such a recognizable and iconic silhouette? What other plant simultaneously conjures images of both the desert and a tropical beach?

Am I starting to sound crazy? Okay, okay. Enough about palm trees. Let's talk photography.

The more I grow and evolve in my photography, I notice 2 things:

  1. "Different" is about a thousand times more important to me than "good"
  2. I'd rather my pictures do the talking

 

I spent a couple hours trying to write this blog post - writing, re-writing, undoing this, changing that... Then I realized those two points and scrapped the whole rough draft. So with those two points in mind, here's all I want to say:

I've been working hard lately to shoot things differently and to develop a style that stands out from the rest - a style that's both beautiful and uniquely my own. I have a long way to go, but I think I'm on the right track. On that note, I am really proud of these pictures (especially the first one at the top of the post). Whatever you take from these pictures, good or bad, I hope it's at least different and I hope they communicate something to you my words wouldn't be able to.

Thank you, and please click the pictures to see them big!


Technical Notes:

All of the palm tree pictures shown here were made on 6x17 film with a Shen-Hao TFC-617A camera on Fuji Velvia 100 film. The first and last pictures were made at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, CA. The second from bottom was made in Dana Point, CA.

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Wildflowers in the Santa Ynez Valley

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Wildflowers in the Santa Ynez Valley
All images on Fuji Velvia 50 film
Click Any Image to Expand

Woah, boy, am I behind on image editing! The photos I'm sharing with you today are from way back in May of this year. We're coming up on Christmas already! I'd like to list out my excuses, but hey, better late than never, right? It actually worked out for the best anyway because I needed some time for these photos to grow on me. There's nothing wrong with them, but they just didn't light my fire when I first saw them.

I took these photos in Los Olivos, California nestled in the beautiful hills of the Santa Ynez Valley. This is wine country, and although I'm no wine connoisseur, I am a connoisseur of rolling hillsides and picturesque landscapes. Luckily for me, the Santa Ynez Valley has both. It's just classic central California out there - lots of open ranch land, big oak trees, that beautiful light. It's easy to see why folks travel here from all over the world (although let's be honest, it's mostly for the wine tasting).

With the recent drought here in California, the hills have been looking less like the Windows XP desktop wallpaper and more like the Mojave Desert. But back in May, the mustard was in full bloom in Santa Ynez, painting the landscape in vibrant swaths of yellow flowers. So on this trip, I loaded up my camera with my high-saturation film (Fuji Velvia 50) and set out to capture the display.

As I mentioned, I initially wasn't pleased with the results. The moral to that story is that I'll always be my own worst critic. Not only that, but I think I'm getting pickier about my photos the more I shoot. I used to be thrilled anytime I got a bit of color and a halfway decent composition. Now I'm a jaded old art critic who demands nothing less than groundbreaking photos. I should relax a bit and ease up on my high standards. I tell my students all the time to stop being so hard on themselves. I suppose there's a lesson to be learned there. Ah, yes, that's right: do as I say, not as I do.

The photos have since grown on me quite a bit and I'm pleased with them now. I think initially I was just so thrown off by the midday lighting. See, I normally take my landscape photos at sunset or sunrise. The light is more dramatic then and it's just become my modus operandi over the years. I specifically wanted to try breaking out of that habit on this trip and trying some photos in the harsher midday light. It took some getting used to, apparently, but now I'm glad I took the photos when I did. I think the color contrast between the blue sky and the yellow flowers is the whole point of these shots, and I certainly couldn't get that at sunset.

I have many more trips to the Santa Ynez Valley in my future. I'm still discovering how I want to capture this place on film, but I think this is a decent start.

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014