BEST PLACES TO PHOTOGRAPH IN SAN FRANCISCO

You could spend an entire lifetime photographing the San Francisco Bay Area and still not capture it all.  It is one of those rare gems – packed full of scenic vistas and perspectives that can keep the passionate photographer endlessly inspired.  It certainly keeps me visually interested and coming back, year after year.  I still continue to find new vantages that compose nicely in the photographic frame.  But what if you are only coming to the city for a weekend, where do you go?  I will share with you some of my favorite locations to photograph in San Francisco.  Some of them are very iconic, some of them are a bit less widely known.  Alternatively, you could join me personally and explore my favorite spots alongside me during one of my SF photo workshops.

THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE TOWER AT SUNRISE

GOLDEN GATE SUNRISE  San Francisco, California

#1.  Battery Spencer     This spot is certainly no secret, but regardless, it is one of the most spectacular locations to photograph.  And not just in San Francisco, but perhaps the entire country!  This is called Battery Spencer.  Get up there at sunrise or sunset and be prepared to be blown away!  It feels like the Golden Gate bridge is close enough to reach out and touch, which is a very cool feeling.  If you can translate some of that feeling photographically, you are likely to make a powerful photograph.  You can use wide angle lenses all the way to longer lenses for countless perspectives.  Get creative and experiment.  For the above photograph, I was in position well before sunrise and prepared when the light started to get sweet.  The thick fog helped keep the composition simple and clean – making it all about the light, color and atmosphere.

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SPACE AND SOLITUDE – BRINGING ATTENTION TO SPACIOUSNESS

SPACE AND SOLITUDE

INTERSECT  Maui, Hawaii

If you close your eyes and visualize your living room and the various elements within the room, what do you see?  A sofa, a coffee table, an entertainment center, a TV, art, and probably quite a number of other elements.  Now, let me ask you – which element is the largest in the room?

If you are like most people, your response might be – the sofa, the TV, or the entertainment center.  If you think a bit more cleverly, you might say – the walls.  What most people don’t recognize is, there is much more “space” than anything else, by far.  Physicists tell us that 99.999% of the universe is space – no-thingness.  Oddly, science can be so much more bizarre than science fiction!  If you removed all the empty space from the entire human race, leaving only electrons and the other subatomic particles, all seven billion human bodies would fit in the space of a sugar cube.  That’s just mind boggling stuff, right?  But that gives you a sense of how much space there is in relation to form – yet we rarely bring our attention to the space.

With the living room exercise, it points out how we as people are living primarily form-based.  That is to say, our attention is always going from one form to the next to the next – whether it be the external forms of the world, or the hyper-active thought-forms continuously flowing through our minds seemingly on auto-pilot.  We are form-conscious beings, but is this our natural state?  Isn’t it odd that 99.999% of everything is space yet we hardly bring our attention to it?

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FINDING COMPOSITIONS IN THE LANDSCAPE

While working with a Maui Photo Workshop participant recently, I was asked a good question: how do you find your compositions?  It hasn’t been a common question among my students, even while discussing the many facets to composing mindful and compelling images, but I think it is a good question.  Of course, there is no one way I find my compositions, but there are a number of ways that seem recurrent.  Here are 5 ways I find my compositions.

The Jungle.  Maui, Hawaii

1.  I go where I feel compelled.  I explore.
Oftentimes when I go out shooting, I head out with no particular destination in mind, and with no image in my mind’s eye.  In these cases, I go where I feel compelled.  I often say that landscape photography is all about putting yourself in the right place, at the right time, with the right frame of mind.  So, where is the “right place”?  Anywhere you feel compelled to photograph, and where you can visually arrange the elements into a compelling image.  It’s enjoyable to work this way – to go out without expectations or pre-visualizations, guided by your feelings and intuitions, and see what happens.


Pier.  La Jolla, California

2.  I go to the same spots over and over.  I study the scene.
This is another common approach that I take with many of my compositions, and has led to many of my most successful photographs.  Once you find a composition that has promise, resonates with you, and is a place that you enjoy spending time, go back time and time again.  I have spoke about the importance to studying the subject HERE.  Whether working near home or while traveling, this is a strong approach toward making successful and compelling images.  Not only does your chances for dynamic light, exciting tidal conditions, or some other interesting element increase, but your relationship with the subject deepens and often comes through the final image, making it more expressive.


Surrendering.  Maui, Hawaii

3.  I allow the elements within the frame to dictate.  I am present and aware.
With landscape photography, it’s best to be present and aware to the conditions around you.  When you bring your awareness to the movement of the oceans water, the breeze passing through the trees overhead, the clouds moving through the sky, or the rain in the distance, you will often find that a composition becomes clear.  You can work backwards from there.  For example, with Surrendering, I noticed how the waves would come ashore, reverse back and collide with the next breaking wave, causing a unique vertical splash in one area.  After noticing this within the scene before me, I worked through composing the scene, making an optimal and creative exposure, and then waited for that one extra element that would set the entire scene off – in this case it was the color in the clouds from sunset.


Hoodoo Storm.  Near Bryce Canyon, Utah

4.  I allow the weather to dictate where I go.  I remain flexible while exploring.
Sometimes when you are out exploring to see where you may feel compelled to shoot or heading to a scene that you have shot many times before, the weather is playing a factor and you can’t ignore it.  Perhaps you have one thing in mind but it’s down-pouring there, so you have to adjust.  Such was the case when I made Hoodoo Storm.  I was at Bryce Canyon and was planning on shooting through the sunset light, when a thunderstorm moved in and unleashed a lot of rain.  I jumped in the car and headed west, hoping to get to the edge of the storm.  30 minutes later, I made my way out of the rain, found a promising hill to hike up from the road, and discovered a compelling composition directly before me as the sun-setting light lit the underbelly of the clouds, resulting in a dynamic and compelling image.


Moonset.  Bandon, Oregon

5.  I research and study the landscape before visiting.  I use technology to assist.
Although the 4 methods above are my primary approaches to finding my compositions, I do tend to add an element of research online, especially before traveling to a new locale.  Google Maps might be one of the most exciting online tools for photographers in researching a shoot to a new locale.  Before my last trip to Oregon and Washington, for example, I studied the entire coastline of the two states to determine the sea-stacks I might be most drawn to.  Then, I used Google Images to get a visual feel of the surroundings.  From there, I was able to pinpoint one particular sea-stack along Oregon’s central coast that I was very drawn to, and a couple months later I was able to commit several days to photographing it, resulting in a series of images titled Rock Study.

PAINTED FOREST – THE RAINBOW EUCALYTPUS TREES – VISION TO EXPRESSION

PAINTED FOREST  Maui, Hawaii 2013

A number of years ago, I decided I wanted to make a successful image or two of the Rainbow Eucalyptus trees.  I am aware of a few small groves of these trees here on Maui, and I had my sights on one of them in particular.  These trees are extraordinary.  Beautiful.  Perhaps the most stunning tree on the planet!  Well, no matter – one of the most stunning anyways.  Really, they look as if they were hand-painted by Salvador Dali himself!

As a subject to a successful landscape photograph, this can be very easy to bugger up.  How?  The most common mistake would be to include too much in the scene, allowing these other elements to take away from the trees.  Another aspect that I was hyper-aware of is that these trees have been photographed once or twice before.  Okay, many times before.  I didn’t want to just go out and do the norm, the expected.  I wanted to do something special, something different.  So, I waited.  I resisted doing the norm and getting the standard shot to include into my portfolio, desiring something more expressive and personal.

A couple of years ago, the vision became clear in my mind’s eye.  I visualized a way to capture these trees in a way that was different, personal and of-my-own-style, while bringing the viewers attention solely to the beauty of the trees.  I’d shoot them at night! – while introducing my own light source.  Now, with the image clearer in my mind, it was just a matter of doing the work.

On a few separate occasions, I recruited a friend to journey to the other side of the island, in the dark of night, to assist me in my attempts to bring vision to expression.  On each of those occasions, I came close to my vision.  Sometimes very close, making it difficult to decide whether the images were worthy of releasing into my portfolio and to the world, or if I should work harder and try again.  Each time, after living with the images for some weeks, I ultimately determined that they did not live up to the vision I had.  The work was not done.

My energy waned some, and nearly a year passed before I returned to give it another go, but the idea and vision stayed with me, and I trusted that it was simply a matter of time before it would happen.  Early 2013, while driving home from a shoot, I get to thinking about the trees.  It’s nighttime. I’m in the neighborhood. I’m feeling motivated.  But, I’m alone.  The thinking-mind tries to start talking me out of it:  It’s totally dark.  The shoot will be too tough with no assistance.  What if zombies get me.  And on it went.  As I approached the trees, I was still 50/50 whether to stop or B-line it home: I am kinda hungry.  I still have an-hour drive home.  A glass of wine would be awesome right now.  As the trees neared, the will to shoot won and I pulled the truck over, geared up, and headed out to shoot the trees in the dark of night.

For the next 90 minutes, I worked through the process of making the images, with a goal of making two successful photographs.  From my earlier experiences, I already had a good idea of the look that I was after, and how to achieve it with my painting-with-light techniques.  Nearby cows roaming about in the surrounding fields sure did sound like zombies coming to get me, but I stayed focused and remained mindful to the myriad aspects that would make this work, or not.  Once I felt that I had successfully captured good strong foundations in-camera, I headed home, anxious to see if they would translate to print.

I am happy to say that they do translate well to print, and do represent my initial vision very well!

RAINBOW TREES  Maui, Hawaii 2013

I often speak with my Maui photo workshop students about how to make personal-expressive work, and working through “the process”.  It is important – recognize the path as a process and do the work.  Allowing yourself to have a vision in your mind, and then working backwards from there is an exciting way to work!  Vision to expression.  Working this way, the process of making photographs is very rewarding and the path is a joyful one.

As the world of photography and image making is proliferating, so is the behavior of seeing-and-repeating.  In recognizing and bringing awareness to this, continually look to create work that is more personal, more expressive, and more communicative.  Pass on the obvious photographs and delve deeper.  Ask continually:  What am I feeling?  What am I wanting to communicate?  What do I want to express?  It has been very exciting working with workshop students in regards to this, and bringing it to the forefront of our attention.  Activating the right-brain and bringing balance to the overactive thinking-mind.  It is important to remember – artwork is feeling based, and it resonates (or not) with people on a feeling level.  The more you can approach the work from a personal feeling based place, the more likely you are to communicate that.  The more you are able to communicate that, the more compelling your photography is bound to be.

I look forward to delving even deeper into this with workshop participants in a La Jolla photo workshop I have just announced for August!

PHOTOGRAPHING LAVA ENTERING THE OCEAN AND THE VOLCANO IN HAWAII

THE BEING BEHIND  Big Island, Hawaii 2013

It has been on my wishlist for quite a long time to view and photograph the lava flowing into the ocean on Hawaii’s Big Island, but for the past few years, the flow has not really been doing much.  A couple of months ago, it finally broke through and is now providing surface activity and ocean entry where visitors can get close and witness this amazing spectacle.  From the National Park side, it is a 6-8 mile hike each way across lava fields, which pretty much rules that option out.  From the Kalapana side, it is approximately 2 miles hike each way, but this side is private property and there is a certain amount of state and landowner control, preventing people from simply walking in on their own to view the lava.  So what is one to do?  Here on Maui, I heard through the “coconut wireless” about a travel company called Poke-A-Stick Tours, that took people out to the lava.  I called and spoke with Cheryl, owner/guide/host extraordinaire, and planned a couple of days with her afternoon sunset hikes out to the lava flow.

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PHOTOGRAPHING ACTIVE LAVA ON THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII

NEW EARTH  Big Island, Hawaii 2013

It’s 4:30am.  Crazy to think that I’ve already been awake for over an hour – not that I’m thinking, and not that I’m really awake!  But here I am, at Isaac Hale State Park on the Big Island of Hawaii with 20 other walking zombies that look a lot like sleepy tourists, all anxious and curious by the adventure that awaits us.

Captain Shane Turpin and crew of two pull up alongside our gathered group of sleepwalkers in a big truck, towing an awkward looking passenger boat hitched on a trailer.  After some curt dialogue about the what-and-what-not’s to our impending trip, we climb a ladder and board the boat.  The driver then drives us down to the boat ramp, backs us in to the water, and before we know it, we are free from the trailer and moving out past the breakers into the dark sea.

I have my pack full of camera gear with two layers of water resistant protection at my feet.  I’m wearing a fleece and and a raincoat, which keeps me warm in the surprisingly cool morning and does well enough keeping me dry against the waves that are continuously splashing and blowing into the boat and in my face.  My shorts are soaked.  I feel like a Navy Seal going out on a special night mission, but keep getting pulled back to reality by the chitter-chatter of over-talkative tourists.  Isn’t O-dark-early a time for quiet?  I wonder to myself, curious as to how some people can never be still and silent.

45 minutes-to-an-hour later, we arrive at our destination – New Earth, in the form of hot molten lava flowing steadily into the Pacific Ocean, splendidly steaming and smoking and wonderfully beautiful.  Captain Shane maneuvers the boat with effortless ease, to within yards of the lava.  I feel the radiance on my face and legs, and within minutes, the glowing heat dries my wet shorts.  The lava meets the sea at a number of different spots along a 1/4 mile stretch of coast. In some spots, the thick fiery substance slowly drops into the water, and in other spots it’s gushing, as if it is being pumped out of the earth.  It is totally awesome to view this spectacle in the dark of night!

As wonderful as it is to the eyes, attempting to photograph hot molten lava in the dark of night from a moving boat in a rough sea, is completely futile.  I practice patience and wait for the light of a coming sunrise to illuminate the scene while enjoying the moment – which to my delight, has proven to be so powerful of a scene that it has rendered some silence from the tourists.  Amen!

Before too long, the light of day takes over the darkness and I am able to start working with the camera.  The Captain slowly runs the boat parallel to the coast so the passengers on one side are able to view and photograph, then turns back the other way allowing the others the spectacular view.  With this method, you are face to face with the amazing sight, or looking out to sea and the setting of a crescent moon.  During the 5-minute periods of looking out to sea, I review my images and quickly adjust my settings to better capture this dynamic scene.  In the end, there’s probably not more than 10 minutes of optimal light to shoot images while being face to face with the lava.

One aspect of concern is that half-a-dozen times, we are completely immersed in the gaseous fumes spewing out of the planet.  Just 2 days ago, I was told by a guide while hiking into the lava flow on foot, “Don’t breathe that smoke and gas – it will kill you.”  I also remember reading online in my research that it is very dangerous to breathe.  Apparently, I am the only one on this boat that has been told this or read this in my research!  The Captain obviously does not seem concerned, and every time we are immersed in smoke and gas, I am the only one aboard that responds by burying my face and eyes into a relatively protective cocoon I’ve formed inside my fleece and raincoat.  On the occasion I peer out, my eyes burn and I quickly burrow back into my cocoon.  These periods are fleeting, maybe 30-45 seconds at a time, and it’s easy enough to cover up, but it still leaves me wondering, how harmful is this?  If not for me on this one-time experience, then for the Captain and his crew who do this multiple times daily?

Morning has broken, the sweet light is fading, and we make our final pass by the lava before heading back to our starting point.  The seas are a little rougher now, but no one seems to mind much, buzzed with the high of a spectacular experience freshly emblazoned in heart and mind.  To see Mother Nature creating more land, New Earth, right in front of my eyes…what an insanely incredible experience!

EARTH BLOOD  Big Island, Hawaii 2013

HOT WATER. STUDY 1  Big Island, Hawaii 2013

The photo workshop side of my business is growing all of the time and Maui Photo Expeditions has been a lot of fun so far.  I am looking to expand some trips outside of Maui and would love to get over to the Big Island more, so will be actively planning group trips over there.  In the meantime, if you are visiting the Big Island of Hawaii and would like to discuss a personalized one-on-one workshop like I provide here on Maui, please Contact Me.  I am happy to island-hop over!  See details to my Maui Photo Expeditions HERE.

PHOTOGRAPHING TIME IN THE FORM OF BIG SURF

During one of my Maui Photo Expeditions this week, while working with a cool couple from Orange County, our emphasis turned to the element of “time”.  Of course, if you follow my work, you know this is my favorite aspect to photography – especially extending the exposure out to be quite long.  Through the use of neutral density filters, or the time of day or night, you as the photographer can control whether your shutter speed is 1/250th of a second, or two minutes, and everything in-between.  By using different exposure times, you create different effects and evoke different feels in your image, translating and communicating different messages.  So first, get mindful as to how you’re feeling and what it is you want to communicate, simplify, and then determine what shutter speed will best translate what you are feeling.

With this photograph, I used a shutter of 1/2 second.  Two minutes would have evoked a serene and peaceful feel, but I wanted the big winter surf to be the focal point and to evoke a sense of Mother Nature’s raw power.  The final element that finishes this capture is the warm light from the setting sun, captured moments before it dipped below the horizon to end another beautiful day in paradise.

BIG WINTER SURF HITS NORTH SHORE MAUI

Big-winter-surf-north-shore-Maui-Hawaii

We had our first big winter surf of the year hit the north shores of the islands and here on Maui this week, which inspired me to pack up and get out shooting.  I headed first up to Honolua Bay and explored some possible compositions, while watching the many surfers position for the double-overhead waves that were consistently rolling in.  After checking out a few less-than-inspiring possibilities and feeling a bit crowded with the many spectators, I decided to head south a bit – away from the larger sets that were hitting the north shores.  I stopped at a nearby pullout, jumped the guard rail and headed down a steep slope to the lava rock shoreline and was immediately sparked with some possible compositions.  I stood and watched as a large set came in and definitely knew I could do some work here, so I headed back up the slope to the truck to retrieve my gear.  Over the course of the next hour and until the light had left me in darkness, I shot 32gb worth of images with a couple different compositions.  I kept my exposure times to around 1-4 seconds in order to maintain enough clarity in these 5-8 foot faces, but while adding enough motion to create a more intense dynamic.  With this type of imagery, you really have to shoot shoot shoot, which kinda goes against my style of waiting for the sweet moment and getting the shot in fewer frames.  With that said, you do what you gotta do to get the shot you’re feeling at the time, and in the end, I’m happy with a couple of captures from the night – enough so that I think they may have to be part of my portfolio-in-the-works titled Boundary.

The lesson here – work with your conditions and with your feelings.  It was very dynamic with these big waves crashing against the rocks and making huge splashes 25 feet into the air.  You could feel the impact and were covered by sea spray.  I could have made a 2-minute long exposure and created a more peaceful and meditative feeling image, but that wouldn’t have translated true to my feelings, and to the conditions presented to me.  So, next time you head out to make images, don’t think about it.  Quiet the mind.  Explore around until you find a place that you’re responding to, on an inner/feeling level, not on a mind/thinking level, and then get in touch with your feelings and with the conditions being presented to you.  Then, photograph accordingly.  With this approach, your images will become stronger and more feeling-based, and you will enjoy your time in nature much more than when you’re in-the-head.

HOUSE OF INFINITY

HOUSE OF INFINITY

HOUSE OF INFINITY  Maui, Hawaii 2012

The St. Joseph Church in Kaupo, Maui, Hawaii is the oldest church on Maui and was established in 1862.

This image essentially took me over two years to successfully complete and was seen in my mind’s eye long before I could show it to you here in a photograph. There is only a small window of time each year in which the Milky Way is in an optimal position above this old church. Kaupo is over 2 hours drive from my house in Lahaina and is located in the most rustic part of Maui where there isn’t even a proper road. The final challenge was with the painting-of-light that I used to illuminate the church. Using a small flashlight it was much too easy to give too little, too much, or not even-enough light which resulted in many failed attempts before capturing this powerful and ethereal scene.

PHOTOGRAPHING NEW YORK CITY – WITH AND WITHOUT A TRIPOD

GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL  New York City, New York 2012

Becca and I had a blast visiting NYC last week!  We roamed Manhattan and took in many of the sights, museums, games (NBA) and restaurants – and I even managed to find time to make some images!  Before the trip and during my online research regarding photographing NYC, I found many photographers talking about how strict NYC is regarding tripod use, and wanted to talk about that some here.

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