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New Photography: Kauai Beaches & Kokee State Park

Opaekaa Falls, KauaiOpaekaa Falls, Kauai
Mamiya RZ67, Fuji Velvia Film
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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!

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego ZooFemale Jaguar, Nindiri, at the San Diego Zoo
35mm Ilford Delta 400 film pushed 1 stop
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I'm a cat person through and through. I like cats. I "get" cats. And I'm absolutely enthralled with big cats. So when my girlfriend and I planned a trip to the San Diego Zoo, I made sure to stop by all the big cat exhibits.

Now I don't consider myself a wildlife photographer. I don't know why I'm not that attracted to photographing animals, but one thing that does light my fire is black and white wildlife photography. I mean just look at the stunning work of Nick Brandt (check out Artsy's Nick Brandt Page) or Andy Biggs. And oh man would I love to photograph wildlife with my medium format camera and a 110mm lens wide open to f/2.8 on some B&W film. Hey, a guy can dream...

I'm certainly not on the same level as Nick Brandt or Andy Biggs - they are masters of their craft - but I thought I'd do some casual black and white wildlife photography at the San Diego Zoo to try my hand at it.

I brought my 35mm camera and a single roll of Ilford Delta 400 film. I didn't take a single shot almost the entire day. Fences, mesh screens, dirty glass, and ugly, ugly light all gave me good reason to leave the camera in my backpack. But we eventually made our way to the African Rocks exhibit where we watched a gorgeous jaguar named Nindiri eat her lunch.

This cat was just stunning. Her smooth coat dotted with jet black spots, I concluded, is the most beautiful of any animal I'd ever seen. And lucky for me, her favorite eating spot was right up near the glass in a dark enclosure with soft light pouring in from the side. Beautiful animal + beautiful light = Nick's breaking out the camera for the first time all day. And unlike many of the other animals we saw, Nindiri was kind enough to face the camera.

It was a very tough shooting situation. It was ultra dim lighting that was repeatedly blocked by other patrons. And never mind their annoying red AF assist beams and on-camera flash killing the light I was trying to capture.

My ISO 400 film didn't give me a shutter speed nearly fast enough. It came out to something like 1/4 of a second, and I had no tripod. So decided to push my film 1 stop to ISO 800. For those of you unfamiliar, pushing film is a process wherein you use the film at an ISO rating higher than what the canister says, then just develop it like it's a higher ISO film. The result is a higher working ISO which allows for faster shutter speeds. The trade-off is that it results in more pronounced grain and exaggerated contrast.

Higher ISO, lower image quality. That old story...

But I was willing to make that tradeoff because the high grain can actually look kind of cool, and this was really my only option to get the shutter speed faster. So with my film pushed to ISO 800, my shutter speed increased all the way to 1/8. Still really damn slow. I had to just do my best with this slow shutter. I turned on image stabilizer, squatted down low, braced myself against a pillar and the glass, held my breath, and waited for moments when Nindiri was relatively still.

Many of the photos came out blurry from her movement, but I'm happy to say that no picture was ruined from camera shake. That's what you call a steady hand...

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Oh, and I got a couple pictures of the meerkats on our way out:

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Meerkats at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Meerkats at the San Diego Zoo

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.