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Heisler Park in Laguna Beach


Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach
Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach, CA
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Ah, finally. The first post of the new year. It's been awhile since I've put up any new pictures or articles, but what can I say? I got caught up with the commotion of the holidays. Now that things have settled down a bit, I'll be back to my old routine (hopefully).

As my first post of 2014, I thought I'd share some photos I took last month at a local stomping ground in Laguna Beach. I was itching to take some shots on this particular Wednesday and the clouds overhead looked promising for a colorful sunset. With my gear loaded up and a few rolls of film in hand, I ventured out to Heisler Park in Laguna Beach to photograph the sunset. Heisler Park is a cliffside park just off Pacific Coast Highway near Las Brisas restaurant that features beautiful views of the Pacific, outdoor sculptures by local artists, and a nice little beach complete with rock formations, tide pools, and stretches of smooth sand.

I've photographed Heisler Park a thousand times before and have brought students there for private lessons and group classes more times than I can count. Sometimes the beach is packed with people, sometimes it's completely empty. This evening it was somewhere in between. But whatever the day of the week, whatever the time of year, there is one thing I always see at Heisler Park beach when I visit at sunset. Every single time I've gone out there, I see a photographer set up with a clean-cut nuclear family wearing white shirts and blue jeans (or the wildly different black shirts and blue jeans) sitting on the sand posed for a portrait to hang over the fireplace. It's always the same attire, always the same Sears-catalog family, and always in the same pose. Oh, and there's occasionally a chocolate lab thrown in to the mix just to complete the Orange County vibe.

The guy taking these pictures, I'm sure, is making bank on these photo shoots. But man that's gotta get old. I often wonder if every once in awhile he just freaks out and goes postal on another client requesting a family photo down at the beach at sunset wearing white shirts and blue jeans. I picture him screaming, "White shirts and blue jeans down at the beach?! SO original! Have you ever worn matching white shirts and blue jeans for a family day of fun down at the beach? Have you ever worn perfectly matching attire at any point in your life? Don't you ever just want some trees or a hillside behind you? What the hell is the matter with you people?!" But maybe I'm being too harsh. He's found a target market and he carved himself out a nice, stable niche. More power to him.

Anyway, I digress. This beach is beautiful and at this time of year (winter), the sun sets more south than it does during the rest of the year. That puts the sunset right over the water, 90-degrees out from the shoreline - right over Catalina Island. And Heisler Park is unique in that the rock formations vary widely from week to week as the sand level rises and drops. I've been there at times when the sand is so high there are practically no rocks to be found above the surface, and other times when the sand is so low that the majority of the beach is rocky terrain. I was pleased to see that I had some rocks to work with on this shoot.

All of the photos you see here were made on medium format film using a Mamiya RZ67 camera. The photo at the top of this post and the first 2 below were made on Fuji Velvia 50 - a high-saturation, high-contrast transparency film. The 2 at the bottom of this post are the same compositions but made on Kodak Ektar print film (negatives). You can see that the Kodak Ektar isn't as contrasty and colorful as the Velvia. I think both looks have their merits, but I tend to gravitate towards the Velvia look more - thanks largely to my admiration of Galen Rowell and his work. I didn't record the specific exposure and filter details for these shots, but I will say that I utilized split ND filters on every one of these photos.

Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach

Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach

Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach

Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach

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.