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Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA
Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA
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I've become obsessed with palm tree pictures over the past couple years. I'm not sure why exactly; I've never really had strong thoughts about them one way or the other. But having grown up in Orange County, CA, they've been ever-present in my life. Perhaps they've burned into my psyche as a symbol of home and my childhood, kind of like the smell of mom's home cooking.

Thinking about this recent obsession two things come to mind. The first is an interesting tidbit that a good photographer friend of mine told me. He said that nature photographers typically organize their work by terrain - coastal photos, mountain photos, desert photos, etc. But that's not really what artists do. Artists often pick a subject to do "studies" on. They'll spend time focusing on a single subject or topic and really dissect it to get to the juicy meat. This subject might even consume their work for years. Just look at Andy Warhol and his Campbell's soup cans. So rather than avoiding this obsession in the interest of pursuing variety (as a younger Nick might have done), I'm letting this obsession guide much of my work. I'm letting my obsession play itself out until I feel a natural urge to move on. I'm trying to roll with it rather than fight it.

The second thing that comes to mind is a quote from the great Annie Leibovitz:

"I’ve said about a million times that the best thing a young photographer can do is to stay close to home... Discover what it means to be close to your work, to be intimate with a subject... Of course there are many good photographs that have nothing to do with staying close to home, and I guess what I’m really saying is that you should take pictures of something that has meaning for you…"

- Annie Leibovitz

Ms. Leibovitz here is not speaking of home in the literal sense, I don't believe. She's talking about working with subjects that mean something to you, subjects you can be intimate with. As a life-long resident of Orange County, palm trees are a subject I can really sink my teeth into because they are everywhere you look. And as I mentioned above, palms trees are meaningful to me in what they represent: home, growing up, building my career, and many fond memories of trips to Palm Springs, CA. To put it simply, palm trees have been a regular companion to many of my most important life events. They've often towered above me like gentle guardians as I've experienced the major milestones and memories in my life. I suppose that makes them worth obsessing over.

But beyond my own personal connection with palm trees there's something else I love about them. Palm trees embody the "dream" of Southern California. Think of every cheesy movie you've seen where the small-town girl with big dreams risks it all to come out to Hollywood in hopes of making it big. The first thing they cut to in the movie when she's finally made it to the city is a row of palm trees with the crisp California sun beating down on them. Palms trees and the Hollywood sign are the most basic symbols of "California Dreamin'."

And there's a special dichotomy with palm trees. On one hand they represent this ambition to reach greater heights, make it big, and find that elusive fame. While on the other hand, palm trees are a typical token of relaxation, vacation, and a slower pace of life. These palm trees with their unmistakable silhouette simultaneously represent ambition and taking it easy. I don't think you could make the same claim of the pine tree.

That California Dream doesn't speak to everyone and I'm not even saying it's a real thing, but what it represents is awfully romantic, isn't it?


Technical Notes:

All of the palm tree pictures shown here were made on 6x17 film with a Shen-Hao TFC-617A camera at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, CA. The color photos were made on Fuji Velvia 100 film and the black and white photos were made on Ilford Delta 100 film. The black and white photos are part of The Palms Collection - a series I've been working on using multiple-exposure techniques to capture that "California Dreamin'" vibe. You can view more of The Palms Collection here.

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

New Photos: Top of the World Laguna Beach

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop
Top of the World Laguna Beach

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I held a workshop last night at Top of the World in Laguna Beach, CA. Eight of my wonderful students and I ventured to this high-point overlooking Orange County to see what we could capture. Seeing as how it's "June gloom" season, the marine layer was out in full force.

For those of you outside Orange County, the marine layer is a thick blanket of clouds that keeps the beach cities in a perpetual state of overcast skies throughout June. It's a real bummer for tourists who plan their SoCal summer trip expecting that classic California weather. Take it from a local: you're better off coming in August or September.

Top of the World Laguna Beach is one of those places where the beautiful compositions don't immediately jump out at you. When you head down to a beach with some epic tide pools with an epic sunset and epic waves, let's be honest, it's not difficult to get an epic shot. Just throw on your wide angle lens and get low. But Top of the World doesn't offer such easy ingredients for a good shot. You have to work harder up here. You have to look for the subtle beauty - soft colors, layers, patterns, lines...

Everyone wants those "punch you in the face" landscapes. You know what I mean - super wide angle, bold colors, epic light - the kind of stuff that racks up the likes on Instagram. But it's good to try something else. It's good to try muted colors for a change and see what you can do with a telephoto lens.

I could tell when we arrived to Top of the World many of my students were skeptical about getting good shots up here. But once they found their groove and saw what kind of subtle beauty could be captured, I was proud to see them come up with stunning compositions! Some were thrown out of their comfort zone, and they came through like pros.

I'm sharing my pictures here because I just loved the light and scenery we had that night. The marine layer rolled in, filling in the nooks and crannies between the hills, providing some of the tastiest layers I've ever seen. We were pretty much eye level with the top of the marine layer, which was awesome! You could see the top of the "blanket" and the sky above, which resulted in some seriously stunning light. Plus, at Top of the World Laguna Beach, you have, hands-down, the best view of iconic Saddleback Mountain.

I took all of these shots handheld with my Canon 5D (original version). No filters were used, although I did get creative with the white balance to get some cool color casts. I was looking to capture lower-contrast, more muted, simplistic compositions. I was after subtle beauty, not the "punch you in the face" compositions.

If you'd like to join me on a workshop like this, check out my full schedule here.

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

Top of the World Laguna Beach photography workshop

On Location Photography: Cleveland National Forest, Orange County

View on YouTube for full HD version

In the Cleveland National Forest of Orange County, CA you'll find something interesting along the Trabuco Canyon trail (adjacent to the more well-known Holy Jim Falls trail). Just a few minutes into the hike is an old car mangled and broken from decades of decay. How it got there I cannot imagine. The trail is narrow enough to only accommodate a single person and there are no roads within a reasonable distance. My guess is that the hiking trail was once wide enough for a car. Someone drove this car out on the treacherous road, got stuck, and ditched it. Or perhaps the story was much more interesting than that involving a cache of stolen goods, a bag of lye, and a Tommy gun. Whatever the case, this thing is just begging to be photographed in its rusted state.

Orange County, like California, offers a diverse range of landscapes. When you think "OC" you probably imagine sandy beaches and real housewives. But the Cleveland National Forest blanketing the Santa Ana Mountains offers some decidedly "un-Orange County" scenery with plenty of spruce trees, a babbling brook, and even the occasional snowfall. This area is as rural as Orange County gets and it's also where you'll find some of the best hiking in the county.

A little while back I decided to venture out to this area of "rural Orang County" looking for a short escape from the crowds and I was itching to photograph that car I'd photographed several times before. Having been there previously with my 35mm film camera in 2003 and years later with my Canon 5D DSLR in 2011, my goal was to get a new take on it, create some new compositions, and try an overall different approach. That's why I planned to do some black and white photography (which I'd never done there before) and some color landscape photography a little less vibrant and saturated than my usual stuff.

Here are the 2 shots I'd taken previously at this location. The first is my 35mm film image from 2003 and the second is from my DSLR in 2011:

Rusted Car in Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

Rusted Car in Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

Upon arrival, I realized quickly that this photo trip wasn't going to go like I planned. The verdant forest surrounding the car that I remembered from my previous trips wasn't so green this time around. Everything was brown, dead, and dry. Even the creek bed was empty. We've had a terribly dry winter here in Southern California - one of the driest on record - and the vegetation in Orange County has been feeling the effects.

Without rich greens surrounding the rusting car, there was really no visual separation between my main subject and the background. It just blended in with everything else. The black and white photos came out so-so in my opinion and the color shots were absolutely abysmal. It was one of those shoots that just didn't go as well as I hoped. But as I say in the video, the sweet isn't as sweet without the sour, so although I didn't get any great shots, at least it'll create a deeper sense of appreciation the next time things do work out.

Click any image below to enlarge:

Rusted Car in Orange County, CA - Cleveland National Forest

Rusted Car in Orange County, CA - Cleveland National Forest

Rusted Car in Orange County, CA - Cleveland National Forest

Rusted Car in Orange County, CA - Cleveland National Forest

Rusted Car in Orange County, CA - Cleveland National Forest

Rusted Car in Orange County, CA - Cleveland National Forest