As photographers it’s no question that we’re subject to the whims of the weather gods. And sometimes it seems as if they must have an incredible sense of humor. Back in February, one of our Big Sur workshops was deluged by 6 hours of driving rain. While we still had a good time and learned a lot, actually taking pictures was a struggle in those conditions. Wanting another go at it, four of the students from that workshop joined us again for a seascape workshop in Santa Cruz, and the weather gods treated us to conditions that couldn’t have been more different: cloudless blue skies and warm sunshine. But little did we know that the weather gods had one more trick up their sleeve….
Wind. The shopping center where we meet our students is well sheltered, and as the group gathered, many of us were de-layering as the toasty sun shone down upon us. But as soon as we gathered the students up and headed off to our first beach it was a different story. The wind was whipping the coast ferociously and our pleasant sunny afternoon instantly turned into another war against the elements.
As the group introduced themselves and talked about their expectations and hopes for the class, we practically had to shout to be heard over the roar of the wind. Jim and I always start off our workshops with an ocean safety and awareness talk, and today gave us the perfect conditions to demonstrate some of the best practices to have while shooting seascapes, such as leveling your tripod, always always always having a chamois to wipe the salt spray off your lens, and avoiding shooting into the wind if possible. You might think that we’d want ideal, calm conditions for our workshops, but the truth is that teaching in tricky conditions is best as we’re able to help students deal with all the things that can go wrong while shooting seascapes. And if the students learn under those types of situations, when they do get the ideal conditions they’ll be able to photograph effortlessly.
So dodging salt spray as best we could, Jim and I talked to the group about fostering a calm approach to photography, where instead of run-and-gun type shooting, the students should take the time to survey the scene, really focus on what interests them, and only then begin to shoot. With so much to shoot at the ocean, this is a fantastic way to hone your images. I always enjoy hearing what each of the individual students notice out at the beach, and this group was as widely varied as ever, with some students choosing to focus on the crashing waves, others on the intricate rock patterns, and others on the shore birds darting in and out of the surf.
While these subjects are all different, there are some concepts which are fundamental to all of them, and we had the students seeking visual contrasts, interfaces, and good light no matter what they were shooting. The relatively low tide meant that much of the beach was accessible, and within no time the group was spread out across the sand capturing watery surges, mossy outcrops, and outflow from the beach’s seasonal creek.
After a few hours of working compositions and technical choices, the group gathered up and headed off to the second beach of the workshop, Four Mile. Thankfully the wind began to die down a bit and Jim and I were able to talk to the students without resorting to yelling.
At Four Mile, we started off with a talk to the whole group about some of the most important composition concepts for seascape photography, like creating depth in a photo using a wide-angle lens, how to create novel perspectives by getting low and close, and breaking up the frame using diagonals, triangles, and converging lines. Jim also led the students on a brief primer through filters, including solid and grad ND’s. Then we turned the students loose to find their shots.
As the students shot, Jim and I worked with everyone in turn to make sure they were getting the most out of the day. For me this is always the best part of the workshop, as we bring together everything we’ve been talking about, and we see the “a-ha!” moments occurring in the students’ minds. Whether it’s using the histogram to refine exposure, or implementing filters to slow down the waves and balance the bright light from the sky, photography starts to gel at this point in the day. Combine that understanding with the nice soft light of sunset, and you get some very happy photographers producing some awesome images. As the sun set, everyone was shooting away, and the curls, crashes, waterfalls, sea stacks, and moss-covered rocks popping up on the backs of their cameras were fantastic to see. But like all days must do, this one too came to an end and it was time to pack it in and go get some pizza!
A huge thanks to Gary, Bob, Paula, Erin, Peter, Peggy, Haley, and Chris for coming out with us on this workshop. You guys were an awesome and fun group and I hope you enjoyed the day as much as we did.