Category Archives: Point Reyes

Darkness and Light

Darkness and Light © Harold Davis

Darkness and Light © Harold Davis

Without darkness there is no light, and when things are darkest distant light seems brighter. Metaphor and solace, perhaps, for these troubled times—or at least my meditation on this “grab shot” from the bluffs above Drakes Bay in Point Reyes California.

I made this photo during my recent Photographing Waves workshop.

One doesn’t often think of landscape photography as requiring good reflexes and split-second timing, but sometimes it does, and this image is a case in point. Sunlight, filtered through a gap in the clouds, illuminated the cleft only very briefly. Blink and it was gone.

I underexposed to increase the contrast between the dark cliffs and the sunlight, and shot with the longest lens I had with me. Here’s the EXIF data: 200mm, 1/640 of a second at f/8 and ISO 200, hand held.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Photographing Waves

Winter Seascape © Harold Davis

Winter Seascape © Harold Davis

On Saturday I led a workshop on Point Reyes about photographing waves. For this workshop, waves are what Alfred Hitchcock called a “MacGuffin”—a fun red herring that lets you get slip the real subject matter in under the covers of the spurious narrative.

While the photography of waves is important to this workshop, so is photographic technique. Specifically, using wave photography as motivation, case study, and example works extremely well to demystify shutter speed, motion, how changing shutter speed impacts the rendering of motion—and also to examine the relationship of exposure, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

The workshop was full, with twenty people including two facilitators, and as I drove out to Point Reyes I became increasingly concerned about the foggy, wet weather. Later, after the classroom session, my fears seemed borne out. On Drakes Beach it was windy, cold, and raining—apparently no weather for photography of waves or anything else.

A few intrepid workshop particpants headed out to the beach with plastic bags over their cameras. Others beat a hasty retreat to the restaurant at the beach for hot chocolate, and photographed the rain from inside the windows. I’m afraid that one or two photographers had enough—and left to go home.

The hulking shapes of normally submerged rocks at low tide in the drizzle were fascinating, and some interesting photos were taken despite the moisture. Then the weather broke, and patches of blue began to appear. We continued with the workshop as planned, climbing up the Drakes Overlook, and then heading to South Beach for sunset.

South Beach faces the open Pacific. There was a strong wind, pounding surf, and dramatic lighting, as you can see in the shot at the beginning of this story, which was taken at 46mm, 1/125 of a second at f/29 and ISO 200, tripod mounted. Part of my strategy was to intentionally underexpose everything except the disk of the setting sun by at least several f-stops, then to restore the dark sections in the Photoshop Darkroom.

I think everyone in the workshop enjoyed the wild, anarchic surf—although one of our number got too close to the surf and needed a change of clothing (her camera was fine).

Thanks to everyone who particpated for their adventurous spirits and being willing to brave the elements. Despite what looked like a workshop disaster early on, it turned out to be truly great photography and communal fun. The experience also validated a trusim about landscape photography: if you are not out there when the weather is bad, then you won’t be there when the bad weather breaks—which is often when you find the best opportunities.

Related links: Poetry in Motion; Harold Davis workshops page; What participants say about Harold Davis workshops.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Stacking Waves

Wave Stack

Wave Stack, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I’ve been thinking about stacking as a technique to use for subjects besides with star trails. I’ve tried a spider busily spinning a web, but so far I haven’t found the right spider or background—and I also need to adjust the exposure interval. Another possibility: a crowded area full of rushing people. I’ll get there.

Yesterday evening I was with Mark at Sculptured Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. The wind was gusting like crazy, so I positioned my camera and tripod low to the ground behind a sheltering rock.

This image is a stacked composite using 12 exposures. I shot each exposure with very little intervals at 1.6 seconds, f/22 and ISO 100. I used a Polarizer to further lengthen the exposures. Essentially, the point of stacking was to create an exposure where the sum of the the exposure time for the moving objects—the waves—was longer than could have been obtained (considering the light) in a single exposure. Stacking also meant that the exposure time on the static objects—rocks, cliffs, and sky—effectively stayed at the time of a single exposure.

Think about it: with the Polarizer, stopped all the way down, and using lowest ISO I could manage a 1.6 second exposure. Stacking the exposures, I have the equivalent of 1.6 X 12, or 18 seconds on the moving waves.

I used the Photoshop Statistics script with the Stack Mode set to Maximum to combine the individual images.

Also posted in Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Star Trails over Drakes Bay

Star Trails over Drakes Bay

Star Trails over Drakes Bay, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I made this image as a demonstration of star stacking for a recent night photography workshop I gave on Point Reyes. Before I explain how I made this image, you might be interested in some general information about star stacking, my workshop schedule, and what participants have said about my workshops.

Here’s the back story: Usually, a highlight of the Point Reyes night photography workshop is a visit after dark to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Unfortunately, high winds forced the Park Service to close the stairs down to the lighthouse. I took the workshop group over to the platform above the Lighthouse, hoping that it might be relatively sheltered—but, no go. The platform was intolerably windy, and not conditions under which one could set up a tripod for stability.

So we went down to Drakes Beach, and sheltered on the leeward side of the bluffs, photographing moonlight on the waves. Fairly early—by night photography standards—we headed back to the historic Coastguard Boathouse, workshop central for the weekend.

From the Boathouse side of Drakes Bay, I noticed that things were fairly clear. There was also some shelter from the wind on one side of the building and a straight shot north. I dropped an extension tube out the window of my bedroom, attached a DC converter to run my camera, and positioned the camera in the corner of the building. I threw my 10.5mm digital fisheye lens on the camera to get as wide a field of view as possible, and also to maximize the star trails.

Workshop parrticipant and photographer Mark Lohman came outside to help me frame the image, but neither of us could really see anything in the dark. So I ran off a high ISO test shot at 30 seconds, f/4, and ISO 2,500.

The test exposure looked pretty good—maybe a little on the bright side—so I figured that 4 minutes at f/4 and ISO 200 would work fine for the real thing. This is about what I had expected, but it was nice to have it confirmed before firing off several hours worth of exposures—also, the test allowed me to confirm the composition. Note that I centered the composition on Polaris, the North Star, to get the most circular star trails.

Before making the exposures, I used my Bulb setting and my interval timer to make an exposure that I planned to use later for the foreground at 8 minutes (also at f/4 and ISO 200):

There was a small airplane fooling around in the sky (the swooping line) but this didn’t really matter as I was only going to use the exposure for the foreground.

Next, I used my interval timer to make 40 4 minute exposures. The interval timer settings were: no interval before exposures started; exposure length 4 minutes; interval between exposures 4 minutes and 1 second (unintuitively, on my timer this runs from the start of the previous exposure, not its conclusion); 40 repetitions.

Then I went to bed, listening to the wind howl outside and the waves crashing.

I woke some time in the middle of the night (I didn’t have a watch) and threw on the minimum of clothing. Outside, wind was still blowing, but camera and tripod still seemed to be in position. The 2 hours and 40 minutes of exposures had finished. I brought my camera back inside and went to bed.

Running through the captures in slide show mode was kind of like a “flip book”—because I could see the stars wheeling in the heavens around Polaris (the North Star). Here’s the way a pretty typical exposure looked when I viewed the set in Adobe Bridge:

Looking through the captures, I saw that the pier was lit a couple of times, once when a couple of workshop participants who’d stayed a little later at Drakes got home and the car headlights shone briefly on the pier, and once when someone was fooling around with light painting the pier. Here’s the headlight frame:

In the classroom, I made obeisance to the Photoshop Gods with the hope that the process would actually work. I opened the 40 images via Adobe Bridge, applying the same setting to eash one in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). Next, I showed how to open the Statistics Script (avaibale in the extended versions of CS3 and later).

I added the 40 open files in the Statistics dialog and chose the Maximum method for combining the images. Then the workshop had lunch while my laptop chugged its way through the massive processing this required. Here’s the background that resulted:

You can see in the background that the frame in the stack with headlights lightened the pier, but the rest of the foreground needed some work. I finished the image by layering in the 8 minute exposure to use as a foreground, adjusting the colors, and selectively sharpening—with the results shown at the top of this story and below.

Star Trails over Drakes Bay

Star Trails over Drakes Bay, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Also posted in Digital Night, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Red Tail Hawk

Red Tail Hawk

Red Tail Hawk, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

One advantage to spending the night out at the end of Point Reyes is being there first thing in the morning. I got up by the light of early dawn and wandered the bluffs near the Chimney Rock Trail. This hawk was there to greet me, and let me get within about twenty feet—all the while perched with a view out over the ocean to the west.

Also posted in Photography

Guiding Light

Guiding Light

Guiding Light, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse is one of my favorite night photography subjects. This was shot during a recent workshop I gave with Point Reyes Field Seminars. I’m lucky that each of my night photo workshops has been allowed down the steps to the lighthouse, although the weather hasn’t always been the greatest!

Here are a couple of my all time favorite Point Reyes Lighthouse images: Night at Point Reyes Lighthouse and Edge of Night.

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Lines

Hill

Hill, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I’ve been thinking about lines in composition, and black & white. Here are two examples where both visual effects come into play.

Above: A fence divides the water utility (EBMUD) lands from the public park in East Bay, and a path follows the fence up the hill. You actually have to payan annual fee to hike on the EBMUD land, and they have their own private force policing this.

Below: How often do you see a sunset in black and white? It’s like seeing flowers in monochrome.

Watching this sunset fron the end of Point Reyes, I was surprised how contrast increased as the sunset progressed, and I realized there really is a simple compositional story here.

Sunset

View this image larger.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, Tilden Park

Point Reyes Twilight

Point Reyes Twilight

Point Reyes Twilight, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

In the LCD, this twilight view of Point Reyes looked like grey mush. Probably the fault of the auto white balance setting. Back home, I adjusted the color temperature to make the scene look more like its natural colors, and multi-RAW processed the image for a painterly effect.

22mm (33mm in 35mm terms); 8 seconds at f/4 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Boathouse

Boathouse

Boathouse, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is the ground floor of the Coastguard Boathouse on the western tip of Point Reyes. I’ll be giving a night photography workshop in this building in a couple of weeks. We’ll eat our meals looking at this boat. I hope the weather cooperates for good night photography!

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography

Windswept Shore

Windswept Shore

Windswept Shore, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: On Drakes Beach a ferocious wind blew through the gap in the bluffs out to sea. In the wind, the sand scoured across the beach. I was a bit reluctant to take my camera out, but (surprisingly) the “sand storm” was all low lying—within a foot of the ground. So I could stand with the blowing sand swirling around my knees and photograph without risking my lens.

Other Drakes Bay wave photos: Patterns of Design; Surf; and Wave Tangent. Also check out Mountains on the Beach.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Night View of Bodega Bay

Night View of Bodega Bay

Night View of Bodega Bay, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This view is looking north out from the tip of Point Reyes across Bodega Bay. This is a storm-bound, windswept coast, often shrouded in fog, so I was lucky to get clear skies for the star trails.

I exposed the photos used in this stack using my backup camera, a Nikon D200, while I photographed Point Reyes Lighthouse (Edge of Night) with my other camera (a D300). I had two tripods with me, but this one was kind of minature so I had to wedge it into the gap between a sign and the fence.

Compared to the D300, the D200 sensor seems to really heat up, which is where the purple flares come from. I kind of like them. Here’s another example showing the D200 sensor flaring, these star circles are from Yosemite at night.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm zoom lans at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 12 exposures each at 4 minutes, f/4, and ISO 100, total exposure time about 48 minutes, stacked in Photoshop using the Statistics action, tripod mounted using a minature tripod wedged between a National Park Service sign and a safety fence.]

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Edge of Night

Edge of Night

Edge of Night, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Against the backdrop of pounding surf and a light mist on the ocean, I photographed star trails behind Point Reyes Lighthouse in this portrait of the edge of night.

Related image: Night at Point Reyes Lighthouse.

[Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, foreground 10 minutes at f/2.8 and ISO 100, background 13 stacked exposures at 4 minutes and f/4 and ISO 100, total capture time about one hour, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Digital Night, Photography

Curvature

Curvature

Curvature, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: A brisk, cold wind blew as the sun set over the Pacific. Mark and I were perched on the edge of a crumbling cliff. As the light of sunset burnished the Pacific edge of Point Reyes, I hurried to make a few exposures, hoping the wind wouldn’t blow over my tripod, or blow me over the cliff (Mark’s tripod did get blown over).

[Nikon D300, 18-200 VR zomm lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms), circular polarizer, 1/4 of a second at f/13 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Between Earth and Sky

Between Earth and Sky

Between Earth and Sky, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

On our way home from a sunset-to-night hike on the Tomales Point fork of Point Reyes, Mark and I stopped at the wreck of the Point Reyes fishing trawler. Many people like to photograph this trawler, which is easily accessible outside of Inverness, California.

The week before, at my Point Reyes night photography workshop, I’d been stymied in my idea of stacking photos to produce circular star trails (stymied because it was cloudy). But this time it was clear. The stars were bright, although a little less than on Tomales Point, probably because of the ambient light pollution.

I pointed the camera north, and used a digital fisheye lens to maximize the celestial rotation of the star trails.

First I tested the light with a one minute exposure at ISO 800 at f/3.5. Then I made an eight minute ISO 100 exposure (with in-camera long exposure noise reduction enabled) for the foreground. This image in its entirety is found below (I think it is interesting in its own right, with the still stars at the center and circular star trails around the edges).

Next, I turned noise reduction off, and programmed my Nikon MC-36 remote for twenty exposures, each capture at four minutes, ISO 100, and f/5.6.

It was damp and a bit chilly in the dark, and for a while Mark and I left my camera on autopilot and sat some distance away in my car, listening to the superb and eerie music of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. After twelve exposures (about 48 minutes) our patience wore out and weariness won. Mark had a plane to catch in the morning for a business meeting, and I’ve been going on fumes since Katie Rose was born. I stopped the automated exposure process, and packed it in.

This morning, I combined the thirteen images in Photoshop using the Statistics script, choosing Maximum as the method for combination. An airplane trail in one of the captures made it into the stack, and I decided to keep this apparent visual anomaly. Finally, I layered in the longer exposure for the detail in the foreground and boat.

[Above: Thirteen captures, all captures Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, tripod mounted; one capture 8 minutes at f/3.5 and ISO 100; twelve captures 4 minutes at f/5.6 and ISO 100; star trails created by statistical stacking of 13 exposures; foreground created by layer with the 8 minute exposure using a gradient and layer mask. Below: Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, 8 minutes at f/3.5 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Point Reyes Trawler at Eight

View this image larger.

Also posted in Digital Night, Photography

Foggy Sea

Foggy Sea

Foggy Sea, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

What happens when you point a camera out to sea in the fog in an almost pitch-black night?

Taken at Limantour Beach during my recent Point Reyes night photography workshop.

[Nikon D300, 18-200VR zoom lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms), 241 seconds at f/3.5 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Digital Night, Photography