Adjacent to Big Sur on the pacific coast is the Point Sur Light-station. I know that because I looked it up on Google before I drove about a hundred miles to come visit it. Little did I know that it was closed to the public except for certain times during the week. It was afternoon so I headed on down the coast and into Big Sur for more pictures. By the time I got back it was near midnight. I was pretty happy with the way it worked out because I thought this scene was pretty awesome and I would have missed it during the day. So I pulled out the tripod and took plenty of shots from the side of the road. The light rotated every 15 seconds so I waited until it passed then took a 10 second exposure which ensured I caught the beam as it pointed north. I hope to come back someday and take the tour, but for now the view from the road wasn’t too bad after all.
Sea Cliff Beach
This is a very hidden beach off the Lands End Trail in San Francisco. By hidden I mean it’s not easy to get to, so not many people come here. Having said that, it appeared to me there was a small dedicated group of people that come here for sunset and to get away from civilization for a bit. It’s amazing to think that surrounding this is the bustling vibrant city, yet here, exposed to the ocean and surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs you can feel quite remote. I don’t even know how I ended up here, just luck I guess.
Pockets of Light
I was in St. Petersburg Florida on Friday to grab dinner at one of the sidewalk cafe’s along the water. I noticed the late afternoon light striking the sailboats and so I excused myself from my party while I walked to the waters edge for this shot. Actually, I was spying it from the time we drove up and I was pretty excited. So excited in fact that I forgot to pay the parking meter, I was more worried about grabbing my camera and getting here before the light changed. The rest of the evening we enjoyed a nice meal and wine as we sheltered from the rain under huge sidewalk umbrella. Finally when it was time to go we walked back to the car where I had a twenty-five dollar parking ticket. Oh well, I figure that’s a small price to pay for catching this particular pocket of light.
California Street Doorman
One day while in San Francisco I walked around the central part of the city. An afternoon walk can seem like quite a trek when you factor in the steep hills of the city. This scene was taken at the top of a hill on California Street as I was resting from an intense trek up. People who walk in this city must be pretty fit. I was dressed in long pants and long sleeves expecting cooler weather but it was quite warm. San Francisco can be unpredictable that way. This is a section of town where some of the architecture reflects victorian influences of the well heeled residents that live here. I, on the other hand, had to rely on my not so well heeled boots to walk back down to my hotel.
Check out my latest article about street photography here.
The Magic of Street Photography
Street photography is something I rarely do but at the same time love to do. I’m a bit shy and so getting out onto the street and taking pictures of random people is not easy. Nonetheless I do it any chance I get because of the magic of freezing time. Images can be thought of as frozen moments in time, yet they are poignant when they have people in them. However, when the scenes are out in public on a busy street it and if done carefully and with purpose, these frozen moments can provide glimpses into the soul of a city that connect us with the inhabitants in a powerful way.
A unique gesture, expression or circumstance can be preserved in a split second that we can return to over and over again. Maybe it’s a circumstance that didn’t even exist when the photo was taken because in truth, we overlay our own stories and meanings onto street photos. We look at a person in a photo and imagine who they are and what they are doing or saying. In most cases we’re wrong, but it doesn’t matter, it’s a photograph and what is left out is quickly filled in with our own imagination. And in that split second, the photo becomes art.
Setting the stage
There are different ways to do street photography. My overall favorite is staging or framing. This involves preselecting a composition and then waiting for someone to walk through. For me it’s particularly fun because it engages my imagination and perhaps is most closely related to landscape photography. By that I mean this technique gives me a bit of control. In case you didn’t know, us landscape photographers are control freaks. We like doing things on our own terms and in our own way. So perhaps this technique is the easiest to try if you too are a landscape photographer like me.
The idea is to pick an interesting composition like an entryway to a building or wall and then wait for someone to walk past. There are no real rules on the frame, just something that forms a backdrop and can add a little to the story you are trying to tell. The next step is that I line myself up so that I’m positioned perpendicular to the frame and then just wait. This is where it gets a little tricky. If I make myself too obvious, people will look up and may avoid the frame. The ability to blend in and not attract too much attention is key.
Funny thing is I use this technique when at the beach around sunset. While this is not street photography, the technique is identical. I’ll line up my shot of the setting sun and wait for someone walking along the shore to walk in my frame; it can make for a nice image. At sunset on the beach everyone has their camera or cell phone out and is snapping pictures as the sun goes down. Yet invariably what happens is people will look up and out of courtesy walk around me, thinking they don’t want to ruin my lovely shot. Little do they know it’s just the opposite, they are my subjects. And so this happens with street as well and trying to look inconspicuous is key.
Drive by shooting
Another technique I use is what I call drive by. That’s a terrible name, I should think of something different. How about “spontaneous shooting”. Hmmmm, not much better, perhaps I’ll work on it. Nevertheless it involves taking impromptu photos of people as I walk down the street. Precisely because of the unscripted nature of this, good results are far and few between. When doing this at night, it involves a high ISO so that the shutter is fast enough to freeze the action of both my stride and the stride of my subjects.
Also, autofocus helps a lot because there is little or no time to focus manually. This is a low percentage endeavor; ninety percent of the time I get junk, blurred or boring images. But every once in a while I capture an expression and it pays off. The expressions are of two types, either the instant recognition of what’s happening or something completely private and intimate. Either way it can make for interesting images, especially once I’ve made my getaway and I’m long gone. 😉
Finally, perhaps the largest category of images is interesting scenes I call vignettes. Walk around any busy street, take the time to notice and you’ll see evocative episodes of daily life unfolding all around you. For me I’m attracted to things that are not part of my everyday experience. For the most part I work in front of a computer, so if I see a cook taking a break on some steps, to me that’s interesting. If I see a guy meditating in a busy park, well now that’s very interesting.
A lot of times the people are so engrossed in what they are doing that they never notice me taking a picture. It still helps to be ready because you never know how long the scene will last or if the people will notice you. More times than not, in the time it takes me to setup the scene has changed and the moment lost; that’s why I try to be prepared when doing street photography. High ISO, fast shutter and auto focus are my most common choices. However sometimes in complex scenes I prefer manual focus such as when I have some foreground distractions such as people walking by which will easily confuse any autofocus system.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed some of these images. Many of these I’ve never shared before. If you are interested this is link to some of my street photography which I’ve not shared before. They are for me like a private collection that I come back to and enjoy from time to time. And the more I look at them the more I want to go back out and try it again. Street photography keeps me on my toes, both in terms of my gear and in terms of being aware of the busy scenes all around. And perhaps the most satisfying thing of all is that I’m always surprised at what I come back with. Try it sometime, put yourself in a busy location and just let the magic happen, you will most certainly come home with some real gems.
Just before I returned home to Florida this week I took a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway (aka Highway 1). My first stop was here at Carmel Beach which is a beautiful strip that’s overlooked by the Pebble Beach golf course. Despite it being a Monday there were quite a few people enjoying the last couple days of summer. This is a combination of two images, one in which I panned my camera from left to right along the beach and another normal shot of two people walking. It’s a technique that I’m developing to convey a timeless feeling of a place.
I was born and raised in California and every now and then I return to rediscover my home. Inevitably there are more things to see than time. Next trip I will probably return to the northern coast above San Francisco, but this southern section is one that has no parallel and one that, at least for me, is unparalleled.
Bixby Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway
The other night I found myself driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway well after dark. That’s because I was driving south to enjoy the scenery and sunset hours earlier and on account of the natural beauty I couldn’t stop driving. Finally I came to a section before Hurst Castle and decided to turn back on account of some road construction and that I had a flight out of San Jose early in the morning. Along the way back I stopped many times to take pictures of the scenery. For me it was an epic adventure I’ll not soon forget. This is Bixby Bridge which was built in the 1930s. To get this I stood on the edge of a cliff in total darkness. Fortunately I had taken some similar photos hours before during daylight so I had an idea of how close to the edge I could get. Maybe not the wisest thing I’ve ever done, but I was in the zone and, well, it is what it is.
Sunday at the Beach
While visiting San Francisco I found myself with some free time on a Sunday. I ended up here at the beach at Point Lobos on the western end of the city. With perfect weather it turned out to be a picture perfect day (pun intended). The waves are bigger and water cooler than back home on the gulf coast of Florida, nonetheless each has its own unique beauty. In fact, there was a pod of humpback whales that passed by. Everyone stood up and pointed to the spouts and flukes as they lumbered along. Later I walked along a trail and enjoyed a sunset at another remote beach not far from here. It’s no wonder many consider San Francisco the most beautiful city in the USA.
Under the San Francisco Bay Bridge
This weekend I’m in San Francisco for a photowalk with Trey Ratcliff and a bunch of friends from The Arcanum. Several hundred showed up, some as far away as Scotland and Australia which made my commute from Florida seem trivial. We walked along the Embarcadero and as we got closer to the Bay Bridge quite a few of us lingered here as we became fixated on the bridge. As you may already know I love to shoot bridges and this ranks up there among my favorite. In any case, the photowalk was a huge success and a great time was had by all including yours truly.
Adventures in Florida
About a month ago I took a jaunt to the jungles of Myakka River State Park about forty minutes away. It was after heavy rains and I was there to look for some new images. The atmosphere was absolutely AMAZING. Everything other than the roads was flooded. And throughout the whole park there was an eerie silence. Maybe because of the humidity that hung in the air, maybe because I seemed to be the only fool photographer in the park, I’m not sure. But from a photographic perspective it was spell binding. That, combined with the solitude was like a waypoint between two worlds. I took photos at various points and just before leaving I stopped at a trailhead near the park exit.
This image shows the path partially submerged as it led away from the road and reemerged only inches above the overflowing river. The water from the river overflowing the path had flattened the grasses as seen here. A mixture of fascination and curiosity got the best of me and I decided to follow it into the jungle.
It was eerily quiet, I was alone, and my senses became heightened. I could hear a twig snap two hundred yards off. My mind kept running through the risk verses reward argument as I wondered if I was crossing the line. It was perhaps a little risky; if I fell in the water it could be bad.
As the park is in central Florida, it is a sanctuary for alligators. Not just a few, five hundred or more in the lake and surrounding rivers, like the one I was following upstream. My idea was that I wanted to get that low angle perspective of the water in the flooded river and so was looking for a vantage clear of foreground obstacles along the bank of the river. I stopped a few times to still my breath and listen. I warily proceeded, slowly and alert, and then it happened. Out of nowhere I heard a splash in the forest perhaps thirty meters away.
The forest floor was covered in about a foot of water and whatever made that splash was substantial, …not a twig. Frozen, heartbeat elevated, I strained with my eyes and ears, peering into the shadowed thick forest for any signs of movement. Nothing. Determined, I continued at a much slower pace, looking for that bend in the river to set up. Then, I heard it, …the sound of a bullfrog. (Lesson break: for those of you not familiar, male alligators make a sound just like a bullfrog.) If you hear that sound, and you are home and not near a body of water, it’s probably a bullfrog, no need to put your drink down. If, on the other hand, you are in a state park that is an alligator sanctuary, and just had heavy rains, and the rivers are flooded then it maybe, just maybe it’s not a bullfrog. The difference between the two sounds is resonance. Bullfrogs are small. Large four hundred pound twelve foot long reptiles produce a deep resonance that cannot be produced by an animal the size of a fist. The sound I was now listening to had a wonderful resonance.
So, here I am, in the jungle, looking for a composition, faced with a decision, do I get my shot or get the hell outta Dodge. At this point I’m thinking that last bend in the river a few meters back might of had some overlooked potential. To continue walking upriver for a better bend might just be the equivalent of pizza delivery for reptiles. Therefore I walked back a few paces to the previous bend in the river and setup my tripod. I figured that as long as I could hear him, I was probably okay. It meant he was stationary (so I reasoned), I really have no clue. I was born and raised in California, I was a boy scout; I backpacked and hiked a lot, I feel at home in the mountains. Put me in the swamps and jungles of Florida and I’m no better than the next Wal-Mart shopper. Strike that, I’m probably worst because I don’t know what I don’t know.
So anyway, I composed the shot and captured the image above and just about that time my sanity came running along and caught up to me. Basically she asked what it was on Gods green earth did I think I was doing? The fact that I had to think a moment meant I didn’t have a good answer. So with sanity leading the way I made a hasty retreat to the trailhead and into the car. Well, not that hasty. Just before I climbed into the car I snapped this selfie.
I think this last bit of documentation was probably a fool’s errand. I half thought that a ranger would later find the phone and the selfie and my disappearance would be satisfactorily explained and the search called off. Fortunate for me that never occurred and despite my questionable decisions I lived to see another day.