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Natural Bridges, Santa Cruz

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 28 July 2009 in Landscape & Rural.

Living near the coast affords me the opportunity to photograph many of nature's creations. For some innate reason, I'm seemingly drawn to natural arches and sea caves. Today's image is one such arch that has been on my "to do" list for quite some time. This is the last of what was once three naturally formed arches at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz, California.

In the early 1900's, the three arches carved by nature out of a mudstone cliff inspired the Park's name. The arches were formed millions of years ago when water, silt, and clay sediment combined with one-celled marine plants called diatoms. Heat and pressure solidified the mixture into a soft stone that formed the three arches.

Wave action against the soft rock formed the bridges and also undercut them, eventually wearing away and leaving only islands. The outermost arch fell in the early part of the 20th century and the inner arch broke during a storm in 1980. Only the middle arch (pictured here) remains, but it is also being slowly eroded by waves.

Trying to capture an image which depicts the arch in an aesthetically pleasing appearance was the true challenge. Fortunately the weather cooperated as much of the coast was shrouded in a thick blanket of fog. Santa Cruz is known for having a stretch of beach which can remain in sunshine, and this evening proved true. There was some nice wave action which would move clumps of kelp in and out of the foreground. This got to be somewhat frustrating as portions of my foreground would wash away prior to me capturing the image.

Instead of "Bulls-eyeing" the arch, I purposely moved it to the top left quadrant of my image to make it less of the "main subject" and more of a supportive element to the overall frame. The ball of kelp serves as an anchor point; I then simply played with various shutter speeds to get some "painterly motion" with the surf. I settled on this frame because I liked the implied diagonal line starting with the swirl in the water on the bottom right of the frame (which also mimics the shape of the kelp and the arch), and continues by drawing the eye towards the arch.

The blurred water starting at the bottom left of the frame also creates a secondary line back towards the ocean and the incoming wave serves to tie the two together. Opposing lines often create dynamic tension in an image, which can make the image seem a bit "edgy." I liked the edgy feel of this image juxtaposed with the soothing feel created by the twilight colors. Warm dusk light (from the twilight wedge) and soft blues from the water worked well to accomplish this goal.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 13/10 second F/22.0 ISO 100 24 mm

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