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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MAKE FIRE – TURNING A PHOTOGRAPHIC SPARK OF INSPIRATION INTO FIRE

THE WALL  La Jolla, California

There we were on Shell Beach in Southern California’s “Jewel” – La Jolla.  If you consider shorts, t-shirt and flip flops ideal attire, then the mid-August weather was just perfect.  The sweet morning light was just beginning to show herself to those of us eager enough to be awake, which on this morning included myself and seven photography workshop participants who were joining me for one of my California workshops.  Shell Beach seemed like an ideal location to take seven passionate photographers for a sunrise – it’s small and intimate, yet contains many elements that can be arranged well for a diverse style of seeing photographic compositions.  It’s only as wide as a football field, yet both sides lead upward to steep cliffs that stretch out toward the sea, undercut with partial caves on the sides and a scattering of rocks throughout the beach, with a couple large rocks just offshore where pelicans and cormorants linger about.  Having photographed this spot many times before, I knew good compositional arrangements could be made, but of course, it is also quite easy to include too much or too little and fall short of success as well.  So, an ideal setting to place students – a place where they can make it work, or not, and then discuss the why’s and why not’s as to what is working and what is not working in real time.

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HIKING HALEAKALA CRATER AT SUNSET

One of my favorite things is to hike down Sliding Sands Trail in the Haleakala National Park, the night before the full moon, during sunset time.  It gives me a chance to get down inside the crater, one of my favorite places on the planet, during the time of optimal-sweet light.  With or without camera, I recognize this as an incredible life-experience – one that I always try and make time for, at least a few times a year.  Last night, I was able to share this experience with a Maui photo workshop participant who was looking for an adventurous photographic expedition during his island vacation to Maui.  It so happened that on this particular day, the moonrise was the most dramatic of the year!  With the sun perfectly opposite the moon, the light and size of the moon appeared to be 14% larger and 30% brighter than normal!  It only made sense for us to venture into the crater from atop the 10,023 foot peak, and put ourselves in an epic and otherworldly place (inside a volcanic crater) for this special moonrise!  As good fortune would have it, we were graced with an insane sunset and the light was so sweet.

The Big Island was clearly visible, seemingly close enough to touch, as the large and brilliant moon arose above it.  Me – as much as I was ooh’ing and aah’ing the moonrise to the right of this scene, I couldn’t resist focusing my photographic efforts on the sweet, brilliant, and colorful light that presented itself to my lens in this composition.  Here, in Hawaii, being much closer to the equator, this period of sweet-light does not last long.  It is fleeting.  Ephemeral.  You put yourself in in the right place, at the right time, and hope for the best.  Last night, I found myself at the right place at the right time – very cool to be able to share the experience with another passionate photographer!

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 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.

WHY MAKE PHOTOGRAPHS? & MINDFULNESS

Winter is my favorite time of the year on Maui.  The weather is perfect, the whales are here in full force, and it’s the busy season!  With that, I’ve been filling up my calendar and keeping very busy and working with many photographers through my Maui photography workshops (Maui Photo Expeditions).  This weekend I had a full day one-on-one workshop with Jim, an IT-guy from Cali.  As a PhD intellectual-thinking type, initially I was concerned.  Could I get all techie for 10 hours?  I wondered, worriedly.  Thankfully, in our first half hour he expressed how he wasn’t looking to get techie, he was looking for assistance on the creative/artistic side of things.  He was looking to me to assist him in activating that other side of the brain that’s not based in thinking, but in feeling.  I could have hugged him!  I mean, it’s not that I couldn’t talk about the technical/craft side-of-photography endlessly with a willing comrade, but I suppose I would rather not.  I find the creative/artistic/feeling-based side-of-things much more interesting, and much more important toward creating more dynamic and expressive work.  With the technical aspects – you learn it well enough to get past it in order to focus your attention on what is going to make your work more personal – mindfulness, presence, space.  And where these topics may at times seem esoteric, especially (I imagine) to the “PhD intellectual-thinking type’s” out there, I strongly believe that it is not the topics of f-stops, depth-of-field, pixel pitch and the like that make images dynamic, but rather the depth-of-feeling, the mindfulness and presence felt through the image that the photographer is communicating, having made the work out of that state.  This is the state out of which images that can move viewers are made, and it is this that I most like to focus on personally, and pass on to others.

Eliot Porter said, “The essential quality of a photograph is the emotional impact that it carries, which is a measure of the author’s success in translating into photographic terms his own emotional response to the subject.”


In preparing some of my thoughts before the workshop, I began with a question, and with a look at what I believe to be the foundation to all good work:

Why make photographs?

If you choose to make photographs, then it seems a valid question to look at – Why make photographs?

Whether it is conscious (yet) in you or not, as photographers, we make photographs to express and to communicate.  Once that is acknowledged, then look at that question – What are we wanting to express? ~and~ What are we aiming to communicate?  The more you look at this, the clearer it is seen.  The clearer it is seen, the more personal and expressive the work.  The more personal and expressive the work, the more dynamic it naturally becomes.

As a photographer, you look at things.  You not only look at the world – at the skies and the seas and the forests and the fields and the cities, you look at your self too – at your thoughts and your feelings and your emotions and your tendencies and your habits.  Being a photographer is being one who mindfully looks at things.  Therefore, being a photographer is as much a personal inner journey, as it is a worldly outer journey.  The more one looks at this, the more compelling the work becomes, and the more rewarding the process is.

It is with this mindset that I’d say that mindfully looking at things, or simply – Mindfulness, is the primary most important aspect that we can bring to our photography.

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.

MAUI SUNSET PHOTOGRAPH – WORKING WITH THE D800

ABLAZE  Maui, Hawaii

Here on Maui, we have had our fair share of amazing sunsets over the past few months, but it seems I’ve been in a bit of a shooting-slump and have watched most of them without camera in hand.  It’s tough to watch stunning sweet light form in the sky without being out in a position to try and capture it photographically.  The stirring inside murmurs to itself, “should be out shooting…could be getting a great shot…who couldn’t make this light work well…Wow!  this light is friggin’ epic!…why aren’t I out shooting!?”  Continue reading

PHOTOGRAPHERS AND FISHERMAN HAVE MUCH IN COMMON

see the fisherman in red?

It seems nearly every time I go out shooting, I find myself in a stunning location at the magic hour to enjoy the clouds passing by and the sounds of the ocean, and if I’m lucky, the chance to get a sweet shot in my camera.  Continue reading

SPEAK TO US OF BEAUTY

  • And a poet said, Speak to us of Beauty.
  •    And he answered:
  •    Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
  •    And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?

  •    The aggrieved and the injured say, “Beauty is kind and gentle.
  •    Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us.”
  •    And the passionate say, “Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.
  •    Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.”

  •    The tired and the weary say, “Beauty is of soft whisperings.  She speaks in our spirit.
  •    Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow.”
  •    But the restless say, “We have heard her shouting among the mountains,
  •    And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions.”

  •    At night the watchmen of the city say, “Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east.”
  •    And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, “We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset.”

  •    In winter say the snow-bound, “She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills.”
  •    And in the summer heat the reapers say, “We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair.”

  •    All these things have you said of beauty,
  •    Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,
  •    And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
  •    It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
  •    But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
  •    It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
  •    But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.
  •    It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,
  •    But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.

  •    People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
  •    But you are life and you are the veil.
  •    Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
  •    But you are eternity and you are the mirror.

-Kahlil Gibran.  The Prophet

FIELD NOTES
ISO: 50 @ 1.60 Seconds
24mm @ F/13