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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
Click Image for Larger View

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.

First Impressions of Kodak Ektar

Kodak Ektar 100All images made on medium format Kodak Ektar film
Click any image for a larger view

I've historically been a color reversal film guy. I just haven't shot much with color negative film. I suppose that's a product of being a Galen Rowell fanboy. He was a Kodachrome and Velvia guy, so that's what I became (unfortunately Kodachrome was before my time, though).

But I decided to break out of my shell a little bit and give Kodak Ektar 100 a try because I've read great things about it and I've seen some beautiful colors from it. As far as I'm concerned, the biggest advantage to shooting Kodak Ektar over something like Fuji Velvia is the increased dynamic range and the ability to change the color balance after taking the shot. 

In the digital world, RAW and JPEG files have sometimes been compared to color negatives and color slides. That's because RAW files, like color negative film, have more flexibility in post-production than JPEG files. Much like a RAW file, I can change the "white balance" of my Kodak Ektar shots in the process of scanning. Also, I get a little bit wider range of tonality than on my trusty old Velvia. Velvia (and all color transparency films) are more like JPEGs - what you see is what you get, there's no doing drastic color changes after snapping the shutter, and the dynamic range is more compressed.

Having worked extensively with the "JPEG of film," I thought it was time to try the film equivalent to a RAW file.

So with my first roll of Kodak Ektar color negative film loaded up in my medium format Mamiya RZ67, I headed out to a local park at high noon. My goal was to create ultra-simplistic compositions of the overly-ordered suburban setting that is Irvine, CA. You see, Irvine is a master-plan community in Orange County, CA that might remind some of the Stepford Wives - the neighborhoods and parks are ultra-ordered, ultra-groomed, ultra-matchy, and ultra-artificial. Nice place to raise a kid, but it ain't exactly dripping with culture and variety.

These compositions aren't my usual high-contrast, high-detail landscapes that you might be used to, but that's the point. I wanted simple and ordered compositions to help highlight the artificiality of the community.

All in all, I felt that Kodak Ektar was a perfect match for this shoot. The wider-than-Velvia dynamic range allowed me to keep detail in the harsh shadows of midday and resulted in an overall softer contrast that suited this subject matter well. The vibrant yet soft color palette combined with the wide dynamic range helped me create the painterly look I was after.

I'm still working on testing this film on some of my more typical shoots - vibrant landscape photography - but I think it's safe to say that Kodak Ektar is a superb film that will forever remain in my arsenal of film stocks...well, at least until they stop making it.

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

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.