One of the interesting things about teaching photography workshops is that you don’t get to cherry-pick the best days in terms of weather. Once a workshop is scheduled it goes out rain, shine, or snow. And believe it or not, we had a little of all three on our recent Big Sur coastal photography workshop.
Jim and I (and I’m pretty sure all our students too) spent most of the week leading up to the workshop worrying about the weather. California was getting pounded by a cold storm and the last thing we wanted was to spend the day outside in the rain. Although dramatic images can be captured in stormy conditions, rain and digital cameras don’t mix well, so I spent the week crossing my fingers for cloudy skies but no precipitation.
When the day of the workshop dawned, radar showed patches of rain moving through Big Sur and clearing out around 11 am. And sure enough, the forecast seemed to be spot on as we met the group in Carmel under beautifully textured -but dry- skies. We headed off to our first location, Pfieffer Beach, to introduce ourselves and talk about what the group was hoping to get out of the class. Full of cheerfulness and positive expectations, we headed down to the beach. And that’s when our old friend Murphy stepped in to make sure that everything that could go wrong would. 🙂
It started with just a few raindrops. But as we split the group up -Jim to talk to the novice shooters about how to use their histograms to ensure proper exposure of their photos, and me to explain the importance of the rule of thirds, leading lines, and depth of field to the more advanced students- the conditions went south in a hurry. The winds picked up and I saw some umbrellas turning inside-out and others flying down the beach. Then the rain started pounding down and our students scrambled to don every available bit of rain gear they could. But our incredible group of students was undeterred, and as Jim and I held umbrellas over their cameras to keep the rain off, the group really worked the beach: finding multiple angles to shoot the famous rock arch, setting up interesting foregrounds and backgrounds, and using the cloudy conditions to help stretch out their shutter speeds in order to capture some silky watery streaks. And despite the tough conditions time flew by and we were off to our next location of the ‘shop: Garrapata Beach.
As we drove north from Pfieffer we managed to come out of the storm a bit and saw that the Santa Lucia mountains were covered in snow! It was an incredible and surreal sight to see the coastal Big Sur mountains capped with that beautiful whiteness. I found it amazing to be able to look in one direction and see the Pacific Ocean down below me, then look in the other direction and see snow up above me. In fact, most of the group remarked on this wonderful experience as well.
Once we arrived at Garrapata we saw that the sun was shining down on the ocean through a break in the storm. Seeing this beautiful display of light, Jim and I hustled to get the students down to the beach to take advantage of the conditions. Perhaps understandably though, many of the group were more interested in changing into dry clothes and getting a snack than running back to the beach. 🙂 But we got the group organized and on their way down when we discovered that the usual trail to the beach was covered by a rampaging stream! Thankfully, a set of concrete steps at the far south end of the beach had recently been completed so by back-tracking a little bit we were able to get everyone safely down to the beach. And a good thing too, because Garrapata is a beautiful beach with long, sandy stretches punctuated by intricately-textured black rocks and we really wanted the students to be able to shoot it.
Once we got the group assembled on the sand, Jim gave a demonstration of how to use filters to balance bright light from the sky against the dimmer foreground, which is one of the most crucial skills in landscape photography. After that the group split up to find their own individual compositions and Jim and I bounced from student to student making sure they were getting as much information as they could handle and helping them to refine their photos. In particular, I spent time explaining to the students how to use a wide-angle lens (and their legs) to create a composition with wonderful depth and impact.
Unfortunately, not long after we arrived at Garrapata, the storm caught up with us and once again made our lives difficult with rain and wind. The students shot as much as possible, but eventually it became clear that sticking it out till sunset wasn’t going to accomplish anything other than making us more wet. So with about 30 minutes left in the day we packed it in and headed back to the cars. Then we drove to Monterey to celebrate our battle with the elements with some piping hot pizza. The looks we got were classic as we strolled into the pizza parlor in all of our rain gear, looking as though we had just come from some insane expedition. And in a way, we had.
A huge huge thanks goes out to our intrepid students hung tough, learned a lot, and produced some wonderful images despite the difficult conditions. Cheers to Bob, Paula, Bruce, Gary, Erin, Juli, Mark, and Joel (another thanks to Joel who was joining us for his second Sea to Summit workshop)!