There’s been so much going on that I’ll start with the most recent and work backwards. Life has been busy. New job, new adventures, new family things, new thoughts. I’ve found myself in a familiar place — so busy and so noisy that stillness and silence are prized commodities. Let’s just start with last night.
Late autumn and winter is when the sun is setting earlier and towards the south. The sky is usually far more interesting than summer months. This is a great combination in Santa Cruz since our part of the bay faces mostly south. I had some ideas involving the setting sun over the SS Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach. What I didn’t plan on was the glorious sunset that followed. The photograph below is available for custom prints or at my SmugMug site
The idea was to use my longest lens and force the setting in into a giant ball of fire. There was plenty of time to setup and enjoy. I called my friend Jon Kahn and asked if he’d like to join me. We sat quietly for a bit, talked about friends, family, work stuff, new camera stuff. Seriously this was the best part.
Where ya been Sean?
It’s been my habit to share photographs on Facebook, etc on a nearly daily basis. I don’t like Facebook. Not at all. For now I’ll spare you the details but let me say this — I hate being part of the problem. I have a lot of thoughts on this and they’re still forming. For the moment I want to sit Facebook out aside from the groups I run. I still kind of like Instagram but there are serious problems on that too. Deadly serious problems. This article by Don Giannatti hit me hard. He says “Never build your house on someone else’s land.” I encourage you to read it.
Monday March 16, Santa Cruz, California. The morning after our governor, Gavin Newsom asked for bars to close, older residents to self quarantine. This wasn’t a directive, but it seems to have been a broad request to help slow down this highly contagious virus. I had a physical therapy appointment this morning and forgot to enable notifications on my phone. The therapist office had called me on my way there, saying that appointments are cancelled. I brought my camera with me just in case there was a story to tell somewhere. That story started right across the street.
Some things stopped
Some things need to go on
I genuinely believe this is an important time for story tellers everywhere. I headed downtown for just a little bit — with great care. I saw a mix of things and behaviors. It was a bit quieter than usual. There were fewer people out. Coffee shops were nearly empty. Places like Verve Coffee are usually hopping with activity. There were a few customers but not empty, and not full. People kept their distance. I met a nice man named Mike, a financial consultant visiting from San Jose to meet a client. That client has asked if they could postpone the meeting for an hour, so he was here for a cup. He was friendly and well dressed. We struck up a conversation easily. We tapped elbows and chuckled about it. I didn’t get his picture — I really should have. We exchanged contact information and I hope to hear from him again.
A little down Pacific Ave and O’Neill Surf Shop was closed. A sign in the door explained why. It’s a smart move, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of it. An iconic surf shop. In Santa Cruz. Closed.
I walked further past Palomar and Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company. Both were open, and with some customers. I stepped out into the street with a wide angle lens. It’s not an empty street, but I’m accustomed to a little more activity. There were still folks making deliveries and some business as usual. Ish. I saw two men happy to see each other greeting with a big hug and handshake. This seemed like exactly the wrong move today.
Wandering around I always come across familiar characters. I think some recognize me too. We have a number of homeless on this street, although in much denser concentrations elsewhere in the county. I worry about these people today.
Some elements of life looked normal but with subtle dissonance. A family out with their baby stroller. A UPS truck out for deliveries. A couple of cars on the road. 114 parking spaces available. That’s most of them.
I have a treasured side gig taking pictures for a local magazine here in Santa Cruz. In November of 2014 I needed something for a gallery of photos. Usually that’s a collection of surf photos from some favorite spots. This particular day it was raining and there was nothing going on. I went downtown instead looking for anything interesting. I had a new lens that I was dying to put to use: a Canon 135mm f/2.0 L-series that I bought from Dan Mitchell. This thing is glorious and I rarely get to use it.
While I wandered around I spotted a beautiful young lady under an umbrella walking my direction. A quick decision on my part meant a ISO 800, f/2.0 for 1/500 second. I loved the result. The texture of the rain drops on her umbrella were what captivated me the most. The fact that I couldn’t see her face added to the story.
A nice lady who often commented on my posts on Google Plus (ahh remember Google Plus?) titled it “Bella And The Umbrella” and the name stuck.
I keep a version of this photograph as a wallpaper on my display at work (ahh that’s right, I don’t do photography full time. I know very few people who do or can). There’s a problem with that version that’s been bothering me since November of 2014. Wes Hardaker pointed out a severe problem with chromatic aberration throughout the photograph. I just had no idea how to fix it because it was so rampant.
I can’t unsee it
Once you see it you can’t unsee it. You start seeing it everywhere. Look at the high contrast areas. There is a green and purple fringe where light meets dark. And it’s everywhere in the picture.
Tonight I had some time and decided to tackle the chromatic aberration monster that tried eating my photograph. Lightroom alone is not enough in this instance. Helping this one meant opening the image in Photoshop.
Duplicate the layer
apply a Gaussian blur enough so that the edges are blurry but you can still identify the main subject
set that layer’s mode to “color”
The chromatic aberration mostly vanishes
Here’s where I get fiddly with it (that’s another term for “detail oriented” or some would say “anal retentive”… your call really). I don’t like how applying the color mode dulls the color throughout the image. I want this to be selective to the problem areas.
Create a black layer mask for the layer mentioned above
using a fairly small brush paint white on the outlines of the problem areas just in the black layer mask
“Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.”
The Cult Of Done Manifesto
That’s a pretty cool quote. In this case please ignore #3 just for me. Just this once. Please. This is photography; I edit everything. Even the line to the left about editing things. I edited that. Twice. No shit.
Tonight at Shark Fin Cove. I have to admit that I have a mixed relationship with this place. An iconic Santa Cruz scene that’s been “loved to death”.
This scene is occasionally found on the cover of magazines like Outdoor Photographer. It’s a tricky location to shoot, and I’ll be honest there are a lot of times when this place doesn’t do a lot for me. There’s usually a lot of garbage from visitors who couldn’t be bothered to pick up after themselves, graffiti, or any number of people who want a selfie while I’m trying to compose a photograph here. Usually I patiently wait out that last one.
A fashion shoot was actually happening off to my right and we were all careful to work around each other. I’m grateful for that kind of awareness. The selfie variety… not so much.
This scene is shot from just about every angle; up high behind this perspective, up and to the right, and slightly less often up the cliff and to my left. I think that what really makes this scene work is an interesting foreground. The rock outcropping that I’m standing on here almost always has interesting reflections and leading lines. The algae on the rocks provides a little color contrast. Tonight the sun was setting to the southwest and provided a fun pop of lens flare.
Processing the Image
It’s a little more complicated than it seems; this is a blend of two photographs. It’s nearly impossible to get both the sunset and the foreground exposed the way I like in a single frame, so this is a blend of 2. I can see a good argument for using 3. Actually blending them together is a lot of work and met with varying success. This area is alive and not standing still at all. For example the cliff sides have tall grass swaying in the breeze. To blend the two images together means carefully painting in a mask along the grass.
There are dangers shooting here. A lot of folks along the cliff don’t realize that they’re standing on an overhang. If you’re visiting here please leave no trace, pick up some trash, and be very careful along those cliffs.
I had an idea for a scene on the west side of Santa Cruz. There are a few staircases that lead surfers into the ocean but one in particular just didn’t really do anything for me — until I had an idea. I had envisioned the staircase in sharp focus while the waves washed over it. Shortly after the idea formed the weather and tide cooperated perfectly. The tide was high and the sky overcast.
The great thing about the overcast sky was that just after sunrise a bright band would appear over the horizon between the ocean and the clouds. Some time with Photoshop created exactly the look I wanted.
Step Into My Office #3 is born
I had another idea involving elements that moved and elements that kept still. I was hoping for a surfer to come up the staircase. This involved a 3-stop neutral density filter. For shots like these I often manually focus on the part of the image that I want in sharpest focus. This may vary if I’m going for hyperfocal depth of field. Soon enough a surfer approached and started coming up the staircase.
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