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Point Lobos Cypress Trees and Sunset Sky

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 2 February 2011 in Landscape & Rural.


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I get asked a lot to explain my thought process behind making images. First off, I'm not really sure if there is one specific way I go about finding an image; oftentimes the image simply finds me. Then there are times when I spot a potential scene but the light is wrong. I make a mental note to revisit at the appropriate time of year and hope the atmospheric conditions cooperate.

Today's image is a good example of the latter process. I have kept my eye on this group on Monterey Cypress trees in Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel, California for some time now. It helps that the Reserve is only a 45-minute drive from my home. Most of January along the central California coast has produced springlike conditions with temperatures in the low 70's and clear-blue skies - great tourist weather but not exactly conducive to exciting photography. Yet while teaching a recent private lesson, I opted to take my chances for a prime sunset location at the iconic Reserve's northern-most boundary. I have observed that oftentimes on clear-sky days, especially during the winter months, the northern tip of the Reserve will yield some thin stratus clouds. I'm not sure why, perhaps partly due to the fact that the Reserve resembles a peninsula and the heating of the land results in the formation of these clouds? I don't know and I am not a meteorologist, it is simply a hunch based on observation.

With my private group of three photographers I again spotted the clouds forming. This location is not conducive to group photography yet two of the gentlemen I had been working with opted to photograph this scene. I saw one of the images and it confirmed my belief that this scene was definitely worth the effort if the sky cooperated. Checking the next day's weather forecast, I was heartened to read that similar conditions were forecast. The next day I drove back to the Reserve and made a beeline to this location. Sure enough, and as you can see, the clouds were back!

The rest was really easy, I just waited for the sun to lower near the horizon and began my session. This image was actually a vertical 9-frame pano captured about 15 minutes past sunset as the clouds lit evenly. I like shooting potential panos vertically as I do not own a pano head and the vertical format allows for some cropping off the top and bottom of the frame. The exposure was straightforward in that I metered for the clouds (and opened up +2/3) knowing (and wanting) the Cypress Trees to fall to silhouette.

I guess I owe the success of this image to scouting and patience. The image also has two variables that I look for in every scene: color and quality light. The graphic silhouette of the Cypress Tress hopefully helps tie all the elements together. I initially cloned-out the two photographers on the far left of this scene, but then decided to leave them in as I felt the lent a sense of scale to the overall image (they may be hard to see in this small version depending on the size of your screen).

Look for potential scenes to photograph where you live. Try to envision these scenes under optimum light, then return when conditions look favorable. As a side note, I had two 14-year-olds with me on this evening, my son Aaron and his friend Andrew. When I asked if they were bored they replied: heck no, that was awesome! Pretty cool to hear that from a couple of young teenagers.


Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 2/5 seconds F/16.0 ISO 100 70 mm

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