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New Photography: Kauai Beaches & Kokee State Park

Opaekaa Falls, KauaiOpaekaa Falls, Kauai
Mamiya RZ67, Fuji Velvia Film
Click Any Image for Larger View

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!

Landscape Photography: Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park at SunsetJoshua Tree National Park at Sunset
Fuji Velvia 50 Film
Click Image for Larger View

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.

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