Bixby Bridge in Big Sur by Diane Meade-Tibbetts

Big Sur Photography Workshop, March 3, 2012

Pizza, photography, and spectacular Big Sur scenery. Does a day get any better than that? Our latest sold-out workshop in Big Sur had everything you could ask for in a day of seascape shooting, except of course any clouds or drama in the sky. But it’s hard to complain about that when you’re overlooking the dramatic Big Sur coast in 70° degree weather, listening to students gasp in astonishment as they stare down into crystal-clear, aquamarine water. But we did more than just gawp at the incredibly scenery. Heck yeah, we got down to some serious photography!

We had a fantastic group on Saturday, with 8 photographers, 3 companions, and 2 instructors, making this our biggest group to date. But we promote photographer camaraderie on our workshops so we packed everyone and their gear into three cars and set out for Garrapata Beach. Lying at the northern end of Big Sur, Garrapata is one of those beaches that has something for everyone: fantastic rocky formations, bright white sands, a seasonal creek, and at this time of year tons of calla lilies (interspersed with tons of poison oak, yikes!).

After our introductions and seascape safety talk, we split the group up into two halves: Jim took those who wanted to dive right into composition, and I took the students who wanted some help refining their understanding of camera settings and exposure. While Jim lead his group on a discussion of the rule of thirds, intersecting diagonals, and the golden ratio, I had my group spinning in circles in order to obtain an intuitive understanding of shutter speed and how it is used to capture motion. We also mounted our cameras on tripods and fiddled with our f-stops to understand aperture and how it is used to control depth of field and our viewers’ attentions. But before long the students were antsy to get shooting so after a quick discussion of histograms and how they are used to perfect exposure, I turned ’em loose to capture the beach.

Soon it was time to head off to our next destination, Bixby Bridge. But rather than stop at the bridge itself we like to visit a pullout that commands an amazing view of not only Bixby Bridge, but of the whole northern Big Sur coast on up into Monterey. This was a perfect opportunity to talk about using polarizers, creating visual interest, and balance in composition in our photos. But the view has a fairly steep drop off and one of our students was getting vertigo (sorry about that, Jeanie!), so we didn’t linger for too long but rather drove deeper into Big Sur to Pfieffer Beach.

At Pfieffer we split the group up once again and I took the photographers who wanted to learn about creative and effective ways to use a wide-angle lens. We discussed how to create impact, the best ways to create and use leading lines, and other cool wide-angle tricks. Meanwhile Jim was leading a talk about graduated ND filters and how to use them to balance bright skies with darker foregrounds.

As the sun dropped toward the horizon we started working with each student to help them use longer shutter speeds to capture silky water and other cool wave effects. This is our students’ favorite part of the workshop and I never get tired of hearing the surprise and joy in their voices as they see their LCDs light up with photo after photo of beautiful water motion. The clarity of the sky helped the sunset glow linger and we were still shooting a full 3/4 of an hour after the sun went down. Eventually cold fingers and empty stomachs prevailed and we headed off to our usual post-workshop celebratory pizza and beer food fest.

To Carlee, Chiara, Jeanie, Diane, Lynn, Kelsey, Owen, Duy, Rod, Mike, and Carlee’s mom, it was a pleasure to meet you (and see a few of you again). On behalf of Jim and myself, thanks for coming on the workshop, we hope you had a great time!



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