Bixby Creek Bridge, Big Sur, California
I know I have gone missing for a while now, at least on my blog. I have fallen woefully behind and have a ton of catching up to do. However this is all for good reason. Pretty much every spare moment I’ve had, I have been doing photography or taking trips and photo outings. So there’s lots of good photography to share. You can also follow my on Instagram (@bryanallo) for a more up to date musings.
I spent last weekend in Monterey. I made the trip for various reasons which also included the Monterey Grand Prix races and a few other attractions. I was initially going to cover the races Saturday and explore the coast on Sunday, but when I realized the final heat race was on Sunday, I decided to skip the qualification races and spend Saturday exploring the coast. Due to the limited amount of time and only one sunset to spare, I had to come up with a shortlist of locations within 30 minutes of Monterey.
After a few stops, I concluded Bixby Bridge was to be my final stop. It did not disappoint. This is what beautiful country looks like. The California, most Californians don’t know about. Most of the people I ran into out there were from around the world or out of state at best. I highly recommend this quick stop as you make your way along the Pacific Coast Highway. It is only 20-30 minutes south of Monterey CA.
I arrived about 30 minutes before sunset. My objective was to quickly scout the area for a good clean shot – a shot good enough to make it to Limited Edition fine art canvas print. Above is a panorama from the west/sunset facing side. Below is another perspective which ended up being my perspective of choice for my final shot. I scouted the area with the Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens. Once I settled on my shot, I switched bodies to the 50 Megapixel Canon 5DsR body. I used a tripod, ND8 filter and then took my time as magic hour progressed. Those shots will take a while to process so I will have to post them later.
Bixby Bridge at Sunset
Bixby Bridge at Magic Hour
Big Sur coast at Sunset
Somewhere along the California coast – Canon 5D Mark III + Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 PRO FX. Settings: 16mm, f/8, 1/400 second, ISO-100.
I just got this email asking for suggestions on how to approach photography along the California coastline and thought I’d put a quick blog post together.
Got another rookie question for you. I’ve taken many photos of the California coastline but none have been exceptional. I’m going to do a lot of experimenting this time ( we leave for Big Sur on Friday).
Where should I start. Long exposure using an ND filter? Where do I focus if I want some of the closer rocks to show up well defined? I know it depends on what time of day but let’s just say mid-day. Sorry to keep bugging you but sometimes I don’t know where to start from. There are many turnouts with great vistas. I’d like to nail just one of them.
I bought a polarizer filter for all my lenses and they help for some shots.
I also bought that Manfrotto tripod you suggested and like it. Easy to set up and take down. Looks like a winner. Thanks for the tip.
Hi Mike, here’s how I would approach the California coast. I will keep things simple and straight forward so you can also focus on enjoying your trip and not racking your brain when you should be soaking it all in.
- Keep your camera in Aperture Priority (AV) mode, AWB and open your aperture to it’s widest (f/2.8). I believe you are using the Canon Rebel T5i and EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. A great camera system.
- Keep your ISO as low as possible (ISO-100) throughout the daytime if your shutter starts to slow down to where you cannot get a steady shot at sunset or in the shade, go ahead and bump it up to ISO-400 and ISO-800 if necessary.
- Always shoot high quality RAW + JPEG at all times. Memory is cheap and should not be an excuse not to. High quality JPEG will enable you to proof your images properly while on the road. Pack enough memory cards. I always carry at least 150GB of cards but 50GB should more than satisfy your needs, if you download at the end of the day.
- Start off by looking for your shot. Shoot wide open and fast checking your composition. Pull over wherever you find the view inspiring. Walk around a little and explore. Take quick candid shots always looking for an interesting subject. Take time to scan the scene through the view finder. Walk down to the shore if you can. Walk along the beach and take in the views and keep taking quick shots, looking for composition.
- Keep in mind that while lighting may not be ideal when you find a good view you’d like to capture, you can always make a note of the location and return around sunset or earlier in the day when the sun is at a better angle relative to your position.
- When you do find a shot you want to explore further, take out your Tripod and setup to give it a proper treatment.
- Still in AV mode, stop your aperture down to f/13, drop back to ISO-100, turn IS off, switch to Manual Focus, use live view mode and zoom in to make sure your focus is where you want it. Focus on a subject between your foreground and background. Stopping your aperture will increase your depth of field. If you don’t have enough of your scene in focus, you can stop your aperture down to f/16. I try to avoid stopping my aperture all the way as most lenses will exhibit some light diffraction. Take several shots along the way and review.
- Use an ND4 filter to further slow your shutter if the aperture is still letting in too much light. 1/3rd of a second should be enough to soften the water on the rocks. If you absolutely want to turn the water to silk you will need a 10-stop filter, but that’s another topic for discussion.
- Use a circular polarizer to cut out harsh glare or overbearing haze, especially when shooting water surfaces from above, unless of course the reflections add character to the shot.
- I like to shoot each scene several different ways: fast shutter, wide open. Slow shutter at various apertures, say f/8, f/11, f/13, f/16. This enables much more creative freedom in post processing when you get back home. I will also take brackets of the scene especially if there is a lot of contrast. Start with +/-3 in daylight, drop down to +/-2 through sunset and +/-1 after sunset or under moonlight.
- While you’re at it, take a few panoramic sets before you pack up and move on to your next shot. For panorama shots step back and zoom in to 55mm (avoid going wider than 35mm) and shoot your frames with at least 30-50% overlap. Use live view again to eyeball your overlap.
- Before you pack up and move on, reset your camera to AV, f/2.8, IS on, AF on.
I hope this helps. Let me know if I missed anything. I look forward to seeing shots from your trip.
Black Chasm Cavern – 7D Mark II + EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
The best part about living in Northern California (and California as a whole) is there is no shortage of some very interesting and curious places to go, sights to see and things to do. I’m not sure what prompted or inspired this trip but last weekend I decided I wanted to explore any caves/caverns that were close by. I think I Googled “caverns near me” out of curiosity while surfing the web late at night.
Oddly enough there were quite a few relatively close by – close enough for a day trip or even a half day trip. Black Chasm Cavern was less than an hour and a half though the scenic country back roads of Amador County. I should also mention this is also California wine country – lesser known but no less good.
This was my first time ever entering a cave and I couldn’t have thought of a better cave to explore than Black Chasm Cavern. It is a National Natural Landmark managed by Cavern Tours. The staff are very helpful and knowledgeable and a lot has been invested in making the cavern accessible with solid steel and composite walkways and lots of strategically positioned lighting to highlight the dramatic formations. It almost did not feel like I was over a hundred feet underground. If it weren’t for the majestic cathedral like ceilings of stalactites and towering stalagmites, one could easily feel as though they were walking the redwoods.
There is so much precious history in this one relatively little place that it was humbling to behold. Walking among geological formations millions of years old just a breath away gave me pause and prompted deep reflection. The cavern stays a very comfortable 57°F year round. It also features some very rare formations found in only a handful of caves. These are the strange spaghetti-like filaments you see in the photos – the most interesting of which is the “Dragon’s Head” found in the last room of the tour, named appropriately after this one little but no less interesting formation.
One of the ares that really piqued my interest are the caves and lakes further down below. They have been closed off to exploration in the interest of preserving the millions of years of formations and not interfering with the gradual processes that make them. You can see in this shot of a cave within a cave within a lake within a cave. It is very mesmerizing.If you are ever out around Northern California, definitely take half day and visit this cavern. You will not be disappointed and will most likely find it a very fun refreshing and relaxing experience. Below are some key shots from the tour.
I used the Canon 7D Mark II with the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens. I shot in Aperture Priority Mode wide open and mostly at ISO-1600. While a bit noisy for my taste, the images were still pretty clean no-less. What I like the most about the 7D Mark II is the low light AF and shutter speed. I shot HDR hand held the whole time. As an added benefit, the HDR bracketing process results in an image with much less noise than any single shot at any ISO. This is a huge un-intended benefit of having a fast camera system with ample processing power. It enables me to take high ISO compositions fast enough to cancel out most noise and hand shake (in conjunction with Image Stabilization). Tripods are not allowed on the tours. With my 5D Mark III I would have needed one for sure or had to jack up my ISO even higher and end up with much noisier images. HDR bracketing on the 5D Mark III would also be forbiddingly slow for the quicker pace of the tour. Just some thoughts for those considering both camera systems. All images are straight out of the camera and unprocessed (Except for the panoramic at the top).
Folsom Lake at one of it’s lowest levels.
For several years now California has been experiencing a severe drought. So severe that earlier this year the Governor as well as state agencies implemented various water conservation measures. The citizens also stepped forward to help alleviate the grave water shortage. I like many just stopped watering my landscape and let it die out. I eventually removed the lawn on my quarter acre property because honestly it did not make any sense whatsoever. It also slashed my water bill in half which means more resources for photography! Yay! …LOL.
Like many, I didn’t fully grasp the gravity of the water shortage we are facing until I took a hike to the bottom of the Folsom lake reservoir with my good friend and fellow photo geek, Sasha January of this year. It was a eye opening excursion. I was blown away by the fact that I could take a leisurely stroll on the lake bed where several years ago I was boating with friends and enjoying summer on the lake. The water level dropped so low we were able to explore old gold mining settlements and ponder a piece of this great state’s history.
Finally this winter we have been getting rain most days of the week with little sunny breaks on the weekends. We are still far from where we need to be (as far as rainfall) to get out of the drought, but we are most grateful. I thought now would be a great time to look back in retrospect and post about it. See the California Drought page for updates. I also found this Insightful NASA Report. Below are some choice shots from that excursion.
Milky Way Galaxy dust lanes as seen from the north coast of California.
This last weekend I had some down time and took off for the north coast to explore and visit friends. Anyone familiar with that part of California must also know how remote some parts can be. The upside is there is almost no light pollution. Being in the heart of summer also meant I could stay comfortably outside well after dark. Once your eyes adjust to the pitch black night, all the stars reveal themselves and after about 20 minutes you can see the all the Milky Way galaxy dust lanes with the naked eye.
I have always wanted to explore the wider view as well but never really had such an opportunity. One look up at the sky and I couldn’t help but think this was going to be easy to capture with my Canon 5D Mark III – as it usually captures at least twice what I can see. I figured I could stack a few wide shots and be done.
In anticipation of this trip I added a new lens to my kit, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8. I will post more on that later. I am very satisfied with how it performed. The shot above is a panoramic of several shots at 16mm, f/2.8, ISO-1600 and 30 seconds. I also shot dark frames (with the cap on). However once I got back home and started processing the RAW files I realized I did not need the dark frames, nor did I need to stack the shots. I am impressed by the high dynamic range of the 5D Mark III RAW image data.
The image processing was done in Canon DPP. The panorama was stitched with PTGui. The final editing and prep was done in GIMP. This was where most of the work was done, mostly with light curves and masks to limit the effects of light pollution from the San Francisco Bay – even though we were several hundred miles north, the effects were still noticeable – see lower right corner of sky.
My trigger [shutter] finger had a serious itch when I woke up this morning. My buddy Pete of Denim Spot invited me down to to come enjoy Brazilian Day festivities. This worked out well as we needed to catch up on some business. I did not stick around for the entire day’s scheduled events, but I managed to capture some of the color. I’m always game, when people take the time to be creative and make any kind of art that is visually appealing. Unfortunately there would be no carnival/samba dancers this time, however I did meet some of the folks from the Brazilian Center who gave me the scoop on future performances. I’m looking forward to capturing those colors for sure. Most of what I captured was of the Mexican Folkloric Dance studio performance. I suppose it was more of a latin american cultural day. Still they put on a very visually appealing performance. Below are some of my favorite shots:
As for the technical details, I shot these with the Canon 5D Mark III using the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II. Because I was shooting over a very dynamic range I put the camera in AV mode. My Aperture was set to f/2.8 for maximum bokeh and subject isolation. My ISO was set to 400-800 to give me a fast enough shutter to stop the motion. AF was set to AI-SERVO to track the fast moving subjects. Selected my AF point based on how I wished to frame each shot. I also used partial or spot metering to help the camera ignore the over exposed spots not covered by tree shadows. This was further aided by the fact that I was tracking my moving subject and keeping my focus point on them at all times. I also used High speed shutter mode to take my shots in bursts of 2-4 shots. Even though the 5D Mark-III is fast enough for most cases, I found myself missing a few key shots because of the “fast-but-not-fast-enough” shutter speed. This is another area where my 7D has never had a problem.
Overall it made for a fun, casual Saturday out and about.