Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos


Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs - Fuji Velvia 100 Film
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This past September I had plans to visit Cabo San Lucas for a week with my family. We'd been looking forward to it for months. We're pretty much all self-employed which means no paid time off, which also means we take very few week-long vacations. We were counting down the days, getting our passports ready, buying new swimsuits...the whole nine yards. Then the morning of departure rolled around. Our flight was cancelled. Turns out Cabo San Lucas was about to be pummeled by Hurrican Odile.

Thank God we didn't fly out a day earlier.

At first, we were all pretty upset. A cancelled vacation is nothing to complain about when the residents down there were about to lose everything, but the morning of, we had no idea how serious the hurricane would turn out to be. Since this hurricane hadn't even been forecasted in the weather reports we saw, we assumed the airlines were just being overly cautious. Once we saw the destruction the hurricane brought later that week, we counted our lucky stars for avoiding it.

With our week wide open and all of us itching to put on our swimsuits, we quickly scrambled for a plan B.

Flying anywhere was off the table - tickets would be outrageously expensive. That left locations within about 6 hours drive of Orange County. San Francisco would have been nice, but just a tad too far away. Santa Barbara was suggested, but a few of us quickly vetoed that. Santa Barbara is pretty, but it wouldn't feel like much of a vacation compared to Orange County. Orange County is just an artificial Santa Barbara anyway. I literally live in an apartment complex in OC with "Santa Barbara style architecture" stated in its leasing literature.

Then I remembered something I'd been wanting to try for months. I'd heard you can rent retro 60's-era houses in Palm Springs, CA complete with Mad Men style furniture and a private pool. I'd looked into it before, but hadn't yet found the time or money to do it. This Cabo cancellation was the perfect opportunity. Ah yes, Jack Daniels and Sinatra by a private pool - it was starting to sound better than Cabo.

With iPad and iPhone in hand, I spent the morning finding just the right Palm Springs retro rental property for our group of 8. We found the perfect place with Oasis Rentals ( called "Tangerine Modern." Five bedrooms, a spacious layout, and floor-to-ceiling windows opening up to the coolest backyard I've ever seen - yeah, this would do.

Needless to say, we had a hell of a time. It was a much-needed break from the daily grind. The September Palm Springs heat was stifling, but the crystalline waters in our backyard provided all the relief we craved.

The sunrises in Palm Springs are gorgeous. The clear desert air provides little barrier for the sun to paint the palm trees and mountains with its golden light. I wanted to sleep in on my vacation, but I just couldn't let that morning light slip past me without breaking out the camera. So on one of the mornings, I got up in the wee hours (when it was already pushing 90 degrees outside) and snapped some shots around the neighborhood. The suburban setting at my feet meant I couldn't do my typical landscapes with foreground and background, so instead I opted to focus my lens up on the trees and mountain above. Fuji Velvia 100 film brought out the colors like only Velvia can.

So the moral of the story, I suppose, is that a cancelled vacation is not worth getting upset about when an entire town is looking down the barrel of destruction. When you get hit with a first-world problem, just come up with a plan B and thank God you aren't dealing with a real problem - like a hurricane.

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Photography On Location: Laguna Beach Palm Trees

Photography On Location Video: Laguna Beach Palm Trees at Heisler Park
View on YouTube to see this video in HD

I'm no stranger to Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, CA. I've taken more pictures there than I can count and I've worked with more students there than I can remember. It's one of those postcard-type parks - the kind of scenery that hotels want front and center on their website. And it's a tourist spot for good reason. The views are stunning, the beach is sheltered, and - my favorite part - the palm trees dotting the landscape are classic Southern California.

On a recent visit there, I came across 3 palm trees that I've photographed a dozen times before. They reach high above the Pacific Ocean right on the edge of a cliff where benches and coin-op binoculars give visitors an excuse to soak in the scenery. From the right vantage point, the crystal blue waters provide a perfect backdrop for these 3 palm trees.

In search of a different photo near the palms, I envisioned a composition that immediately had me wanting for a different camera. I had my medium format 6x7 camera with me at the time but the composition I visualized required my 6x17 panoramic. Oh well, I'd have an excuse to revisit this gorgeous park again - bummer. And I thought it would be a good opportunity to create another on-location video for your enjoyment. So with my panoramic gear and my video gear packed up, I ventured to my spot.

I normally shoot at sunset to get the best color and contrast for my Laguna Beach landscape photos, but this shot was going to be different. I actually needed to shoot at high noon with the sun directly overhead. The reason for this was two-fold. First, I needed the sky to be evenly illuminated behind the palms. In late afternoon or at sunset, the sky would be much brighter off to the right side of the image as the sun descended in the west. And secondly, I planned to use a circular polarizer to minimize the glare off the water. This would also darken the sky (which I was fine with), but only at high noon would the darkening effect be even across the whole panorama. Again, with the sun low in the west, the polarizer would have darkened the left-hand side of the photo much more than the right, further exaggerating the unevenly lit sky.

Shooting at high noon brings some challenges, though. For one, the color isn't as vibrant compared to sunset. No problem, I planned to shoot black and white anyway (Ilford Delta 100). The midday sun would also bring excessively high contrast. But again, no problem. I wanted the high-contrast look. The composition I envisioned consisted of a medium-dark ocean, medium-light sky, and nearly black palm trees. The midday sun coupled with my polarizer provided that perfectly.

The last challenge of shooting midday was the lens flare. I have no lens hood for this camera, so I had to shade the lens with my hand instead. As you can see in the video, it wasn't the most comfortable way to shoot. Keeping my hand over the lens for 2 and a half minutes at a time for 4 separate exposures got a little old...

I also used a Lee 10-stop BigStopper filter to get my exposure way down to 2 and a half minutes. I wanted a slow shutter so as to smooth out the ocean waves, turning the Pacific into a nice flat surface, and to let the palm tree fronds "fuzz out" in the breeze. The name of the game for this composition was simplicity. I wanted just the palm trees in the center with a lot of negative space to the left and right. I didn't want clouds or waves or anything else in the background to distract from the palm trees. The slow shutter smoothed everything out for me and created a great ethereal fuzziness around the palm trees.

Palm Trees at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, CA

Three Palm Trees - Heisler Park, Laguna Beach, CA
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Normally when shooting panoramas this wide, it's wise to use a center ND filter. This is a filter that is dark in the center, but clear around the outside edge. See, a wide angle lens on such a wide piece of film creates a major vignette at the edges of the frame. The center ND filter darkens the center of the image to match the natural vignetting and, thus, even out the exposure. But for this shot, I deliberately avoided the center ND filter. I wanted the natural vignette. I wanted those dark edges because I knew it would create a mood to match what I envisioned. I didn't want a bright, evenly exposed Peter Lik scenic (we got enough of those). I wanted an artist representation of these palm trees - a photo that incited a mood in the viewer, not just a snapshot of a tourist destination.

To put it simply without sounding arrogant, I'm really pleased with how this shot turned out. It's nearly identical to what I envisioned and it works as well on film as it did in my head. And this, by the way, is the reward of good training and experience - whatever you envision, you can make happen. So if you're a novice reading this, hang in there and keep working at becoming a better photographer. Eventually you'll have the tools to realize your visions on film (or digitally), whatever those visions may be.

Website Updates: Redesigned Nature Photography Gallery

Nature Photography Gallery

The gallery section of my website has been looking a little out-dated lately, so I decided to re-design it to include more nature photography along with new sections for my portrait photography and architectural photography. It's a cleaner look, the navigation is easier, and there's an entirely new section titled "Collections." This is where you'll find my ongoing artistic studies of certain subjects or photographic styles.

My personal favorite is "The Palms Collection" - an ongoing study of multiple exposures on black and white film showcasing the iconic silhouettes of California palm trees in a unique way. I'm also just starting to dive deeper into "The Joshua Tree Collection" which is a series of images highlighting individual Joshua Trees and the unique shapes they take on. The classic black and white styling and simple compositional approach is designed to feature the individual "personalities" of these iconic yuccas as if the images were photographic portraits. And, of course, there's "The Orange County Collection," an ongoing project to capture the beaches, hills, and sunsets that grace my backyard.

I'm known much more for my nature photography than anything else, but I'm no slouch when it comes to portrait photography, so I decided to share my portraiture work (however rare it may be) in the new "People" gallery. And with plans to shoot a lot more buildings and structures in the near future, I put together a gallery of my architectural photography that is still very much in its infancy. And to showcase my completed, framed artwork, you'll find a new section called "Completed Projects." In addition to all of this you'll find new sections titled "For Art Buyers & Consultants" and "About the Artwork."

Take a break from your busy day and check out the new gallery!