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Thousand Steps Sunset

Thousand Steps in Laguna Beach

The clouds looked promising last Friday, so I decided to get out to the beach for some sunset pictures. I'm a little bit burned out on Crystal Cove and my other usual spots, so I went to Thousand Steps to see what I could get. I hadn't been to this beach in awhile, but I really do love it there. The single staircase of 223 stairs makes it more difficult to access than the usual Laguna beaches, which sucks for carrying 30+ lbs of camera gear (mostly on the way back to the car) but it's great for keeping the crowds away.

The sunset was, well...I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Thousand Steps in Laguna Beach

Thousand Steps in Laguna Beach

There's a weird illusion going on with this last picture where the horizon looks crooked, but definitely isn't. Strange...

Photography Tips: Careful Composition

Skill Level: Professional

Although this tip isn't particularly difficult to apply and, truthfully, anyone of any skill level can use it, I'm classifying it as "Professional." This is mainly because this tip is one of those things where your mind really has to be completely freed up in order to use it. In other words, you'll find it hard to use this tip in the field if your attention is even remotely distracted with shutter speed, aperture, ISO, filters, focus, metering, etc. All these things must be second-nature and require hardly a thought, as with a professional, before you can apply this tip with success on a regular basis.

This tip is essentially about being nit-picky with your composition. Finding those tiny little details that no one will ever notice but will make or break the composition.

Next time you're framing up a picture, set aside 10-20 extra seconds to really pick apart the composition to see if there's anything you could do better. And I mean really pick it apart. Look at every intersecting subject, every corner and edge, every line, shape and texture. Then decide if maybe a few inches this way or that way or a slight nudge of the zoom ring will make it better. These tiny little shifts will make a huge difference.

Believe me when I tell you...it's this kind of scrupulousness that separates professional pictures from amateur. Let's take a look at a few examples to see what I'm talking about.

So in this first picture, I framed up a composition I felt was pretty good...

Mono Lake

...but in reviewing it more closely, I saw there was room for improvement. The tufa in the foreground overlapped the reflection in the background just a tiny bit.

Mono Lake

This made the front tufa kind of blend in with the background tufas and, thus, created a little bit of a distraction in the composition. It also pulled away from the depth of the scene (i.e. suddenly the background doesn't look so far away). But just by raising up my viewing angle a bit, I knew that foreground element would drop lower and the background reflection would raise up. This would create the separation I needed between the two elements. It was going to be a hassle changing my position - I was already spread thin as it was - but I knew it would make the shot much better. So with a minor adjustment of my tripod...

Mono Lake

...there you have it. The shot is barely any different, but that minor change made a big impact. Now the foreground is more separated from the background, depth is restored and it doesn't look as cluttered.

Here's another example, also from Mono Lake, where I very carefully adjusted my composition in order to get the reflection of that tallest tufa to line up perfectly in the "dip" of that foreground tufa. Even just a couple inches to the right, left, up or down would have placed that reflection to intersect with the foreground element and render it much less pleasing. This was no accident - it was very deliberate and was vital to creating a strong composition.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

And in this picture from Torrey Pines State Reserve, I positioned myself to place that smaller tree perfectly centered under the arch of the bigger tree. This kept the composition nicely balanced, neat and uncluttered.

Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines

So there you have it. Simple in concept? Yeah. Easy to apply? Sure it is. But don't be surprised when you get home and review your compositions only to think "How the hell didn't I catch that?" This takes some practice and, again, if you have to think twice about anything else out there like your shutter, aperture, ISO, focus, metering, filters or otherwise, it'll be harder to find these things. So learn your photography basics so you can free your mind up to get better compositions!

Trip to Sierras – Part 4

Finally, the last installment of images from my recent trip to the Sierras! This covers our last day there, which was really just a half day as we left town by about 2:00pm. To view the previous installments of images covering days 1 and 2, click the links below:

- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3

Click any of the panoramas to view larger versions.

Mono Lake Sunrise

We got up before sunrise again and I decided to hit Mono Lake for the second time. I really just wanted to redeem my first trip there (see Part 1) and I thought sunrise and a little change in location might make the difference. My plan was to first try the main parking lot. If it was packed, I'd turn around and head down a side road to a different, lesser-visited area. Well, surprise surprise...it was packed.

With more than a hint of exasperation, I flipped the car around and headed down that side road where I found a little clearing along the brush. Apparently this was the overflow parking area for the South Tufa main lot. We were the only car there, it was well detached from the busy main lot and boardwalk, and I could see some tufas beyond the brush that looked promising. Added bonus: didn't have to pay for parking.

So I parked the car, got my gear, strapped on my headlamp and started hiking into the brush towards Mono Lake. My lady stayed back in the car to enjoy the sunrise from the comfort of heated seats. Since I hadn't scouted this area yet and there was no clear-cut trail, it was a bit of a chore getting down there. I found myself losing the "trail" quite often and having to push my way through some tall brush. But, that's part of the adventure and I couldn't complain!

After about 10 minutes of bushwhacking, I made it to the shore and looked around. Perfect. Not a soul in sight. It was the solitude I'd been itching for since day 1. Also, the tufas down here, although not quite as stunning as the main area, were still very gorgeous. The banks were much more muddy and harder to navigate, but that was a small price to pay for the privacy.

As I started planning my shots, I could hear the crowds from the main South Tufa Reserve. They were far enough away that I couldn't see anyone, but I could definitely hear them. I could also see the dirt road off in the distance that lead to the South Tufas. Every time I looked back, I'd see headlights from about 3 cars making their way towards the lot. One right after the other. Car...car...car...car. It seemed to never end.

All I could do was shake my head. There still wasn't another tripod in sight for me, though, so I was happy. I could only imagine how crowded it was getting out there. But anyway, enough about the crowds, here are my shots from the morning:

Mono Lake Panorama

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Sunrise

Mono Lake Tufas

Mono Lake Reflections

Mono Lake Panorama

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Tufa

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Panorama

After Mono Lake, some breakfast, check-out and a browse through the local stores, we headed out of town. On our way out, we took a drive through June Lake Loop. Wow. I really wish I had seen this place earlier in our trip. It was stunning. Silver Lake was so picturesque I just had to break my general rule of not shooting in the middle of the day. Luckily, this type of scenery does okay with midday light (although still not as pretty as sunrise or sunset).

Silver Lake

Silver Lake

So there it is! All 4 installments of images from my trip! I hope you enjoyed the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them (that's a tall order). I can't wait to go back. This place is absolutely jam-packed with photo ops and I can't wait to add some more of them to my portfolio.

Thanks for following along!