Photography workshop student along the Santa Cruz coast

Big Sur and Santa Cruz Coastal Photography Workshops

I’m in this business for the pizza. I suppose I could spin you a yarn and say that I do it for the love of photography, or the joy of teaching, or the thrill of seeing a student’s eyes light up when she understands a new photography concept. But no, I really just do it for the pizza.

I’m kidding of course. I love teaching workshops for all the reasons I mentioned. Jim and I go out to pizza with our students after every class though and since we had two back-to-back workshops this past weekend that meant two nights in a row of stuff-your-face cheesy goodness, which is really a pretty great way to cap off a weekend spent outside in some world-class coastal scenery, talking photography with 11 enthusiastic students.

We kicked the weekend off down in Big Sur where the skies were blue, and the wind blew. But that didn’t stop any of our intrepid students from getting right into the thick of it and I saw the waves lapping around many a tripod leg. We love to see this as the surf zone is the best place to create interesting, dynamic seascape images. It also gave Jim and me the perfect opportunity to talk about some of the unique aspects of coastal photography, such as the constantly changing conditions, and that much-hated annoyance: salt spray. Soon it was time to drive our group to our next stop: Hurricane Point, which boasts a commanding view of the Big Sur coastline.

But a few students seemed just as interested in finding a bathroom as in shooting the scene so after a little while we carried on further south the dramatic Pfieffer Beach. Pfieffer Beach is great because it has plenty of space for our students to spread out and a wonderful variety of features including seastacks, a seasonal creek, boulders, and pink sand. So there’s something for every photographer. And while our group homed in on the individual elements that caught their eyes, Jim and I were able to work one-on-one with each student (though Shonna disappeared around the corner unbeknownst to me and I didn’t get a chance to talk with her as much as I wanted to, sorry Shonna!) to help them with their individual questions and issues.

As the afternoon wore on toward evening I was surprised by how many other photographers showed up at the beach. And they all seemed to have their cameras trained on the iconic Pfieffer Arch. Were they hoping for the classic lightbeam to occur? I can only assume so, and if that’s the case I can’t help but feel a little bad for them as the lightbeam will never occur at this time of year thanks to the angle of the sun. Interestingly though, this weekend would’ve been the perfect time to catch a shot of the “super” moon as it set through the arch at sunrise. I might have attempted the shot myself but I was still getting over jet lag from my recent trip to New Zealand and getting up at 3:00 am to drive to Pfieffer Beach for sunrise was pretty low on my priority list.

But high on my priority list: making sure all the students had a great time that day. Once sunset was over we wrapped up the ‘shop and made a beeline for Gianni’s Pizza in Monterey to celebrate the day.

It seemed as soon as that workshop was over the next was beginning and Jim and I were meeting our next group of photo enthusiasts for a ‘shop a little closer to home in Santa Cruz. We took our group straight away to Davenport Main Beach. We were clearly not the only ones out enjoying the warm spring weather though and the parking lot was packed! After we found parking spots, the group made its way down to the beach where the level of the tide was perfectly exposing some of Davenport’s more interesting features, like its rocky shelves and fingers of mudstone. This gave Jim a chance to talk to Dave and Ben about composition, while I led the rest of the group through a photographer primer, going over shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and how they relate to one another. But not just that; we also talked about the creative effects of using one shutter speed versus a different one, or why to use one aperture over another.

The tide bottomed out around 5:00 pm and that was our signal to venture to our second beach of the day, Four Mile. We like to head for the shelves on the southern end of Four Mile because they provide the perfect setting for us to talk wide-angle composition with our students. The shelves also provide perfect examples of foreground, midground, and background objects for our students to capture. Plus they give you a bit of a leg workout to climb up and down, but we’ve never had a student who hasn’t made it to the top!

As day turned to night we got to work with the students to help them capture wave motion through the use of a slow shutter speed. Capturing waves in this way is just so much fun. And we also talked to the students about timing their shots to produce different looks. Dusk gave us a great opportunity to discuss the relationship between light and shutter speed and how you need to stretch your exposures longer and longer as twilight sets in. But soon it was dark enough that only the longest exposures would work, so donned our headlamps and hiked back to the cars. Then it was time for a second night of celebratory pizza. What a way to end the weekend!

Many thanks to our wonderful groups over the two days. Valerie, Shonna, Ashley, Janet, Dayne, Sarah, Ben, Rachel, Robin, Gail, and David, it was a pleasure to meet you and we look forward to seeing you the next time around!



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