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New Photography: More Kauai Beaches

Kauai Beaches at sunrise Kauai Beach at Sunrise, East Shore
Fuji Velvia 50 film, Mamiya RZ67
Click Any Image for a Larger View

Continuing part 2 of my Kauai recap (see part 1 here), all of the photos in this post were taken on the same beach just outside my hotel on the eastern side of Kauai. As I stated in the previous post, Kauai beaches didn't end up being the recreational wonderlands I anticipated, but pair those trademark Kauai clouds with a good sunrise and I've got myself a photographer's paradise.

With the beach just outside our hotel and my internal clock still on LA time, waking up to photograph the rising sun was far from painful. And as I had hoped, the scattered cloud cover made from some vivid colors. One sunrise in particular was just stunning.

The only thing that was a real pain on these shoots was the sea spray. Now I'm no stranger to sea spray. I've photographed Orange County beaches countless times and I'm well familiar with the annoyance of salty mist settling on lenses and filters. But these waters were so damn choppy and the wind was so relentless that the sea spray all but ruined some of these photos. I had a hell of a time trying to keep my filters clean.

And speaking of filters, I utilized Lee hard-transition graduated neutral density filters in all of these photos. Some shots had 2 stops, some 3, some even 5. Early in the sunrise when the foreground was still in shadow, I needed some heavy filtration to darken the sky within range of the foreground. But as the sun worked its way up in the sky, the foreground saw some light and I was able to back the filters down to 2 or 3 stops.

The compositions here weren't anything new for me. I'd done almost identical compositions on my first couple days there, but the sky was so much more gorgeous in these shots that I really felt obligated to "redo" those same compositions with the new sky. Fuji Velvia medium format film rendered the colors beautifully. I utilized Velvia 100 and Velvia 50 films on this trip, alternating back and forth with each roll. Velvia 50 has a warmer color balance than Velvia 100 which made it perfect for the warm tones of sunrise. That's what I used in most of these shots. But Velvia 100 with its cooler tones and vivid greens worked well on the photos from the lush interior portions of the island. Both great films, but Velvia 100 is a little easier to work with.

This trip to Kauai was memorable, fun, and most of all, a learning experience. I learned that Kauai isn't the kind of island I expected it to be. Miles of white sandy beaches, gentle breezes, calm oceans, and warm waters...that's not Kauai. Kauai is a feast for the eyes. Kauai beaches are beautiful to look at, but few offer safe swimming or snorkeling. The Napali coast is a work of art, but you'll need a charted boat or a helicopter to get there. The north shore is lush and vibrant, but there aren't many places to get out and hike. The waterfalls are majestic, but some of the best of them are on private land. That's why I call Kauai "the island of inaccessibility." Charming towns, decent kayaking, interesting weather, and scenery that's simply unmatched anywhere else in the world. That's Kauai. But it doesn't offer the kind of beaches you see on those travel brochures with the good-looking middle-aged couple laying on lounge chairs on a white sand beach holding hands. I think that's more Maui's thing.

But hey, now I have an excuse to visit Maui again, so I can pit Maui vs Kauai in a death match of which island is better. For now, my conclusion is this: visit Kauai to drink in the gorgeous scenery, revel in the charming local vibe, see the sights, and kayak a river or two. But for that picturesque honeymoon type tropical vacation filled with relaxation, fruity drinks, perfect weather, and turquoise blue waters...you might want to try somewhere else.

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

New Landscape Photography & Video: Storm in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park Fine Art PhotographyJoshua Tree in Fog
Image made on Ilford Delta 100 Film
with a Mamiya RZ67 and 110mm f/2.8

It's been kind of an unusual couple weeks weather-wise for Orange County. Temperatures have been soaring and we've had lots of scattered cloud cover. It's resulted  in some seriously gorgeous skies - the sunsets especially.

Unfortunately, though, the beaches are crowded and, frankly, I'm a little burned out on photographing beach sunsets. So although I've been enjoying the beautiful skies, I haven't really been photographing them. But Monday of last week I decided to get myself out to Joshua Tree National Park to photograph these dramatic weather conditions.

The forecast called for scattered thunder storms in the desert - which is really what made me decide to drive out there - but the thunder never materialized. That's okay though because the breaking storm made for some of the most beautiful light and skies I've ever seen in Joshua Tree National Park.

The drive to Joshua Tree from Orange County is about 2 1/2 hours, which feels about 3 hours longer than I remember. And especially with the heavy downpour and flooded streets through the desert, I was beginning to doubt my decision about an hour in to the drive.

But boy am I glad I took this trip!

On the way in to the park, I found a stretch of road where a heavy fog enveloped the Joshua Trees and rock formations, creating some truly stunning scenery for me to capture on my Ilford Delta 100 black and white film. I chose black and white for this entire outing for a couple reasons (with the exception of a single roll of color film I'm pretty sure I botched). First, I've simply been more attracted to black and white landscape photography lately. Maybe I'm burned out on color, maybe I just don't find it "artsy" enough anymore. But whatever the reason, B&W seems to be keeping my creative juices flowing in a way color film isn't. And aside from that, I mean come on...Joshua Trees in fog and breaking storms over the desert? It's just begging for black and white!

I spent the first half of the day photographing these unique yuccas in the fog with my Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera. I chose this format because with the 110mm f/2.8 lens, I was able to get a real shallow depth of field by shooting wide open. This helped to draw attention to my subjects as if I was shooting a portrait of each Joshua Tree. I made 10 frames of these "portraits" with plans to create a triptych from the best 3.

I used a dark yellow #15 filter on these shots to help introduce some contrast in this flat lighting and I over-developed the film intentionally to help raise up the highlights a bit (N+1 processing for you Zone System users).

After lunch, I spent the day in the higher elevations of the park scouting out a good location for sunset and creating some B&W 6x17 photographs highlighting the stunning sky.

I'm normally pretty humble and modest about my photos and I always feel weird heaping praise on my own work, but I am truly thrilled with the photos I made on this trip. For a long time now I haven't felt that my pictures are actually representative of me or of the vibe I want to create. But these pictures are a better representation of me than I think anything else I've put out before.

I must be moving in the right direction.

Please, oh, please click any image for a larger view

Breaking Storm over Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park Fine Art Landscape Photography

Joshua Tree in Fog in Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Joshua Tree in Fog in Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Joshua Tree in Fog in Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Joshua Tree National Park Fine Art Photography

And check out the on-location video:

View on YouTube for full HD version

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
Click Image for Larger View

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.