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Wildflowers in the Santa Ynez Valley

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Wildflowers in the Santa Ynez Valley
All images on Fuji Velvia 50 film
Click Any Image to Expand

Woah, boy, am I behind on image editing! The photos I'm sharing with you today are from way back in May of this year. We're coming up on Christmas already! I'd like to list out my excuses, but hey, better late than never, right? It actually worked out for the best anyway because I needed some time for these photos to grow on me. There's nothing wrong with them, but they just didn't light my fire when I first saw them.

I took these photos in Los Olivos, California nestled in the beautiful hills of the Santa Ynez Valley. This is wine country, and although I'm no wine connoisseur, I am a connoisseur of rolling hillsides and picturesque landscapes. Luckily for me, the Santa Ynez Valley has both. It's just classic central California out there - lots of open ranch land, big oak trees, that beautiful light. It's easy to see why folks travel here from all over the world (although let's be honest, it's mostly for the wine tasting).

With the recent drought here in California, the hills have been looking less like the Windows XP desktop wallpaper and more like the Mojave Desert. But back in May, the mustard was in full bloom in Santa Ynez, painting the landscape in vibrant swaths of yellow flowers. So on this trip, I loaded up my camera with my high-saturation film (Fuji Velvia 50) and set out to capture the display.

As I mentioned, I initially wasn't pleased with the results. The moral to that story is that I'll always be my own worst critic. Not only that, but I think I'm getting pickier about my photos the more I shoot. I used to be thrilled anytime I got a bit of color and a halfway decent composition. Now I'm a jaded old art critic who demands nothing less than groundbreaking photos. I should relax a bit and ease up on my high standards. I tell my students all the time to stop being so hard on themselves. I suppose there's a lesson to be learned there. Ah, yes, that's right: do as I say, not as I do.

The photos have since grown on me quite a bit and I'm pleased with them now. I think initially I was just so thrown off by the midday lighting. See, I normally take my landscape photos at sunset or sunrise. The light is more dramatic then and it's just become my modus operandi over the years. I specifically wanted to try breaking out of that habit on this trip and trying some photos in the harsher midday light. It took some getting used to, apparently, but now I'm glad I took the photos when I did. I think the color contrast between the blue sky and the yellow flowers is the whole point of these shots, and I certainly couldn't get that at sunset.

I have many more trips to the Santa Ynez Valley in my future. I'm still discovering how I want to capture this place on film, but I think this is a decent start.

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Fun With Long Exposures in Laguna Beach

Long Exposures in Laguna Beach, CA

Long Exposure at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, CA
1 minute at f/32

I've been hooked on black and white photography lately. Maybe it's a sign I'm getting older, but I think I'm just a little burned out on the whole "make an epic landscape bursting with more color than a box of Crayola crayons" approach to landscape photography. I dig photos that depart from reality a little bit - something that doesn't look like a facsimile of real life. For these same reasons, I've been experimenting with doing ultra-long exposures down at the local beaches.

When you get into the territory of super long exposures like 30 seconds and longer, the ocean takes on a surreal foggy look from all the motion of the waves. The result is a smoothed out water surface and a beautiful mist along the shore. With some good dark rocks in the foreground to break it up, the surrealism that results is addictive.

For this series of photos, I set up my tripod at a local stopping ground - Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, CA. I've photographed this beach more times than I can count. It's classic Orange County, CA with picturesque palm trees lining the sun-soaked cliffs and some excellent rock formations for this style of landscape photography.

The photos you see here were made on Ilford Delta 100 black and white film with a Mamiya RZ67 camera, but these effects are even easier to achieve with a digital SLR. The shutter speed in each photo here was 1 minute. In order to get that long of an exposure, I had to close my aperture down real small - f/32 - and use 6 stops of neutral density filter to cut back the light. Also, the fact that it was a little bit overcast helped, too. If you were doing this with a digital camera, you'd need to do the same things I did - small aperture, ND filter, and be sure to use a low ISO of 50 or 100. And since the shutter speed will be beyond 30 seconds, you'll need to switch your camera into "bulb" mode. Bulb mode is where the shutter will stay open for as long as you hold down the shutter release. Best use a locking cable release so that you don't have to sit there with your finger on the shutter release. Use a stopwatch to time the shutter speed or just count "1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi..." I also used a split ND filter here to darken up the sky a bit.

I'm sure I'll be taking many more long exposure pictures like this in the near future. I'm hooked.

Long Exposures in Laguna Beach, CA

Long Exposures in Laguna Beach, CA

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