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Branch Dance, Moss Landing State Beach

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 4 December 2010 in Miscellaneous and Portfolio.

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I have finally made the big move from glasses to contacts. I am extremely squeamish when it comes to touching my eyes but I am slowly overcoming that fear. As a photographer, this has been refreshingly liberating! Last Sunday, I grabbed my gear and headed towards the coast to test shooting with my new set of eyes. Simply resetting the diopters in my camera to match my contacts was all that was needed. If I hold my LCD at arm's length, I can see the image quite clearly. I also have a pair of reading glasses (the cheap magnifiers) if I need to inspect up close. I'm starting to get the hang of it and I must say I'm enjoying wearing them.

Today's image was the last frame that I made on that shoot. I started out visiting a new California State Park - Fort Ord Dunes. I was somewhat dismayed that there was no access to the dunes whatsoever, simply an overlook angled west towards Monterey and a trail to the beach. I felt I had no opportunity to include any meaningful foreground elements so I journeyed northward to the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge but found the dirt access road flooded from all the recent rains. Batting 0-2, I decided to journey further up the coast to the Salinas River Beach State Park. Again, no access to the dunes. Feeling very frustrated (not to mention I was 30 minutes from sunset) I made one more journey north to Moss Landing State Beach. You guessed it - the dunes were off-limits. Now I am all for proper environmentalism, but roping off all the dunes on all these beaches is a bit over the top in my opinion.

Not wanting to simply shoot a sunset over the ocean, I made my way back towards the harbor area and began making nice stock shots of the harbor and the tall PG&E smoke stacks with twilight light. Yet I still felt that I hadn't made an artistic image. All my images to that point included something manmade.

Just as I was about to call it a day, I spotted this innocuous snag laying on its side. The movement of the lines under the subdued twilight caught my attention and was further enhanced by the warm twilight glow on the calm harbor water. I isolated as many of the branches as I could with my 70-200 mmL lens and used the small wooden branches poking through the water as a background.

I played with only a handful of compositions and felt dismayed as the color quickly faded off the water. But it was getting dark as evidenced by my 10 second exposure. Once back at my computer, I played with this frame as I composed it but wasn't completely satisfied. I knew the image I wanted was in there somewhere so I began playing with the crop tool and liked this finished version.

Part of the fun of landscape photography for me is challenging myself to find images even when they are not evident. Fifteen minutes prior to sunset I walked right past this scene - never considered photographing it. But as the light changed and dusk set in, my perception of the surroundings changed. I contend that the majority of my best images on clear sky days (and we get a lot of them in California) are captured either at dawn or dusk. There is a softness to the light and a special color palette that changes everyday scenes - such as this - into objects begging to be photographed.

Next time you are out on a clear day, don't be so quick to pack your gear. It is amazing the amount of color our digital cameras can record even when our eyes start to see in black-and-white. Now if they can just make a set of contacts that can allow my eyes to see like a digital sensor...

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 10 second F/16.0 ISO 100 140 mm

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