Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos

CONTACT
 

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
Click Image to Enlarge

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.

Fun With Triptych Photography: Trees and Clouds

Triptych Photography

Triptych Photography
Click Any Image to View Larger

I got a thing for triptych photography. There's something about threes - it just looks good. Maybe it's because I'm one of 3 brothers. But whatever the reason, lately I've been addicted to taking pictures in such a way that they'll look good as a triptych in the final presentation. This most often manifests as three nearly identical compositions of slightly different subjects so that when they are finally arranged together into a triptych, the artwork, as a whole, simultaneously highlights the broad similarities and minor differences between subjects all in one piece.

The other way to make a triptych is to simply divide up a single picture into thirds, then place the segments next to each other to reconstitute the bigger picture, as I did with the 10-foot wide panoramic hanging in my Tustin office.

Triptych Wall Art

Recently, when my girlfriend and I took our dog out for a drive/walk on a partly cloudy day, we eventually found ourselves at my old high school. The clouds were gorgeous - which is the real reason we decided to get out of the house - and I brought my camera gear along to capture the dramatic sky. Whenever we get those picturesque partly cloudy skies dotted with billowing fair-weather cumulous clouds, I feel a nagging itch to go photograph it. I simply love this type of weather. It is unquestionably my favorite type of sky. But my dilemma, usually, is that there just aren't many good foregrounds here in Orange County to create a traditional land-and-sky landscape photo. Unless I want that gorgeous sky paired with an endless wasteland of tract housing and strip malls, I find myself more than a bit frustrated.

I could head down to the beach and photograph this beautiful sky over the ocean, which I have done before with excellent results, but you Orange County natives know that the skies at the beach are rarely similar to the skies just 10 miles in from the coast. It would be a gamble heading down there. Or I could venture out into one of the local wilderness preserves to catch this sky over some rolling hills, but with the recent drought and the ever-shrinking wilderness areas, it can be difficult to find a good foreground devoid of tract-housing clutter.

So when we get skies like this and I get the urge to take pictures, I go into "let's play some Jazz" mode. I bring my camera along as I drive or bike around OC, and I simply look for ways to improvise. Head over here, see if something works, move on to something else if it doesn't. Often times this method results in nothing noteworthy, but sometimes it results in photos I'm really proud to call my own.

On this little outing with my girlfriend and our dog, the improvisation led us to my high school. Not sure why, I was just following my instincts and looking for an open view of the sky. But I'm glad we ended up at this location because I found some trees that I could silhouette against the sky without any suburban clutter in the background thanks to a wide open spread of baseball fields behind it. I immediately envisioned a black and white triptych of three of these trees side-by-side. I wanted a rich, dark sky with bright contrasting clouds and a simple outline of the tree centered perfectly in each composition. Our angle to these trees gave us the exact backlighting I needed to illuminate the clouds and silhouette the trees.

Although I always try my damnedest to predict conditions and plan out my shots well in advance, shoots like this always remind me that improvisation is an important skill to creating great photos.

Here are the individual shots from this triptych:

Triptych Photography

Triptych Photography

Triptych Photography

Mojave Desert, Part 3: Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Sand Texture in the Mojave Desert
Click Any Image Enlarge

I think I could photograph the ripples in these sand dunes for days and never get bored. That’s why I did a lot of it on this trip. I also find that shooting in the square film format and using my camera handheld (as opposed to my usual tripod method) makes photographing this sand texture all the more fun. The ripples are simultaneously perfectly ordered and utterly random. They’re like the grooves in your fingerprint - each one is different and yet they all look pretty much the same at first glance.

The most interesting thing about these ripples and textures is that they are formed entirely by wind alone. It’s nothing more than a side effect of a natural weather phenomenon. It’s simply remarkable that this is what mother nature creates when she’s left alone. And like an etch-a-sketch, each one of these sculptures is shaken clear and re-formed with passing time. They are transient and temporary, a fact that makes photographing them all the more special.

At the Kelso Sand Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve, you’ll find faint layers of black sand mixed in with the more common beige variety. I presume the black sand comes from the volcanic rock of nearby cinder cones which has been eroded down to granules and transported by the wind onto these mammoth piles of sand. The real interesting part comes in how the wind separates the black sand from the beige sand. It seems one of these types of sand is heavier than the other. This fact is evident all over the dunes where a strip of black sand will crown the top of a crest or line the valleys of sand ripples like a black highlighter drawn along their edge. The result is a multi-colored painting of sand and wind that even the finest artist couldn’t create.

I personally like these types of compositions. They aren’t in-your-face like my more typical epic landscape photography, but their subtlety and near-abstractness is perfect for interior decorating. I plan to compile some of these images of sand texture into a triptych - 3 compositions side-by-side or one on top of the other to form a beautiful wall art piece that brings the texture of the Kelso Sand Dunes indoors. Or maybe I’ll do 4 compositions arranged 2x2...perhaps 6 arranged 2x3...maybe even 9 arranged 3x3.

I think we’re going to need a bigger wall...

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture