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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

Landscape Photography: Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park at SunsetJoshua Tree National Park at Sunset
Fuji Velvia 50 Film
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I recently posted a blog entry about my day trip to Joshua Tree National Park during a storm (view the photos and on-location video here). I took lots of black and white photos on that day because the foggy and cloudy weather just looked phenomenal in monochrome.

My plan was to shoot black and white right up until the sunset, then switch over to color film to capture the rich colors of what I figured would be a very colorful sunset. And, as I hoped, the sunset ended up being a brilliant display of orange, red, and yellow.

Unfortunately, though, I spent too long working on a black and white composition just minutes before the sun dropped. I thought I had more time than I did and, before I knew it, the sun was in prime position but I was still working on my black and white composition. So I scrambled over to my pre-determined "sunset position," loaded up a roll of color film in record time, metered the scene, then started shooting. I was working like mad. I hate being rushed, but I really couldn't let these sunset colors go.

When I'm hurrying, I tend to make mistakes out of frustration for the ticking clock. And by the end of this roll, I was convinced that I botched the whole thing. I was scrambling and my technique was sloppy. Surely none of the shots would come out right.

So when I got home from the trip, I focused my efforts on the rolls of B&W film, anticipating that those would hold the quality shots. And much to my pleasure, the black and whites came out great. In fact, that one B&W composition I was working on just minutes before sunset - the one that made me rush so terribly as the sun dropped - that turned out to be my favorite composition from the whole trip. So, pleased with my work, I silently thanked the universe for the botched roll of color film in exchange for 3 rolls of great B&W film.

There the roll of color film sat on my desk, waiting to be developed. But sure that the photos were terrible, I didn't take it to the lab for developing until a few days later.

Upon finally receiving the film, I was pleased once again. The shots didn't come out perfect and they didn't capture the peak color, but they weren't half bad. So I thought I'd share with you the best shot from the single roll of color film I exposed that day in Joshua Tree National Park (at top).

There's room for improvement on this photo. I could have done things a little better, but that's what happens when you rush. That'll teach me to try and get 2 different compositions during the same sunset on my slowest camera.

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.