California Coastal Photography Weekend Workshop
October 5th, 2011
Seascapes, seascapes, and more seascapes! Can you ever get enough seascapes? We definitely put that question to the test on our recent 2-day Central California Coastal Photography Workshop. From sunrise to sunset it was non-stop seascapes. And despite the early wake-ups and long days, our students were as excited as could be as we drove them to amazing beach after amazing beach. Luckily for us the weather cooperated and we had varied and interesting conditions all weekend long, which made the photography all the more enjoyable. And I’ll be the first to say that our students went home with some gorgeous shots.
I’ll admit it was a little risky scheduling a coastal workshop at the end of September. This time of year can be crystal clear on the central California coast, and Jim and I were dreading a weekend full of blue skies. But the Friday night before the workshop started brought us a good omen in the form of a beautiful sunset. We knew that if those clouds stuck around all weekend we’d have a great ‘shop. And as the photo to the left shows, the conditions turned out to be about as good as you could ask for.
We started things off Saturday morning at o’dark thirty when we met our students an hour and a half before sunrise. Perking them up with coffee and donuts, we headed off to Capitola Pier. The pier is one of the best places in Santa Cruz to catch the sunrise because the angle of the beach lets you shoot the sun rising over the pier. On top of that, the orange lights on the pier provide a beautiful color contrast to the rich blues of “blue hour,” the period of time just before sunrise. Caffeinated and sugared, the students went roaming all over the beach in search of compositions. Because the sky was getting brighter by the second, it gave us a great chance to work one on one with the students to help them understand exposure and how to combine their camera settings to get the look they want. Before long the early morning blues gave way to mid morning grays, and our students had covered just about every angle of the pier. So we packed up and motored off to the greatest beach known to man: Panther/Hole in the Wall.
At least, I think it’s the greatest beach known to man. And I reckon our students do too because some of them hardly made it more than a few feet on the beach before their cameras were out and they were shooting. Over the sound of crashing waves, Jim and I talked about how easy it is in the digital age to come to a beautiful place and just start snapping frames without much critical thought, especially when there is so much to see at a place like Panther / Hole in the Wall. But we encouraged our students to take a deep breath before they shoot, to really look out at a scene and identify the elements that call to them. And not only that, but to analyze those elements and understand what is alluring about them. That process helps our students get in touch with their creative vision and to start making photos which are more art, less snapshot.
As I mentioned, there is a lot to see at this beach. And that day the beach was made even more dramatic by cloudy skies and pounding surf. What a perfect opportunity to learn to shoot seascapes. We had students in the water capturing wave action, up on rocks capturing crashes and splashes, and standing in channels capturing streaking foam. We spent a good four hours at this beach and barely scratched the surface. Still, we had lots of time to work individually with each student, to help them get the most out of their cameras and their eyes. Finally, at about 1:00pm, we had to drag the class away from the beach to head back into town for lunch and a short break.
A few hours later we reconvened, well rested and fed. Now it was time to venture a little further afield: San Mateo county. So we loaded up the van and the jeep and headed north. Right into a thick wall of pea-soup fog. Ugh. Normally we can still shoot in the fog. But this was a thick, clinging fog that was sending swirls of moisture everywhere. So rather than deal with the frustration of constant lens and filter cleaning, not to mention the risk of getting water inside our cameras if we needed to change lenses, we decided to head back down to Santa Cruz county where there were dramatic clouds, but no fog.
Four mile beach it was, a gorgeous place with sand-colored cliffs and a beauteous seastack. We spent about 15 minutes talking about some of the most important compositional elements in photography and how to control your viewer’s attention in your photos. With plenty of examples to underscore what we were discussing, Jim and I walked the students through some simple but powerful ideas like near-far compositions, creating leading lines, using diagonals to break up the frame, and getting close to a subject to increase its impact. But with the crashing surf in the background it was tough to keep our students’ attention for too long, so we sent them off to find their own magic spots on this beach.
As if on cue, the clouds above began letting some ethereal golden light through and the drama in the sky was almost as strong as the drama of the waves on the beach. I definitely saw one or two “keepers” fired off while this was happening. But soon enough the light faded and we were packing up to call it a night.