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Big Sur in Spring 2-Day Photography Workshop Recap

May 4, 2010

The dynamic views and beautiful light of the Big Sur area on California’s central coast is one of my favorite places to photograph. Because of all the wonderful opportunities for creative and impactful images it’s also one of my favorite places to teach workshops. Late April and early May is one of the best times to visit the Big Sur area, the days are nice and long which allows us to capture wonderful images during the early and later parts of the day; while also giving us the time to relax a bit during the afternoons and enjoy the lovely shops, galleries and restaurants the area has to offer, all-the-while still getting in our classroom/lectures and print sharing sessions.

We started the workshop on Friday evening with introductions and a quick rundown of the itinerary for the next two days. I’m lucky that many of my workshops are filled with a number of returning faces and this one was no different, however we did have a couple of first timers, Lori and Bill. It was great to hear a little about everyone, what subjects they like to work with and why they were taking the workshop as it lets me know where they’re coming from and what they may be hoping to get out of the weekend.

As always we started bright and early Saturday morning in order to arrive at our morning location before sunrise so we could take advantage of the beautiful pre-dawn light at Garrapata beach. This is one of the most stunning locations in the area with its long stretch of sandy beach, mixed with its interesting rock formations that make for strong foreground subjects. The beach is also an outlet for a creek that flows into the Pacific Ocean from a gorge that is filled with Calla Lilies.

The weather was beautiful and the light was even better. Starting with the soft cool transitions in the sky, the thin wispy clouds that greeted us to the North slowly started to show some color as the sun rose beyond the mountains to the east. Everyone scouted the beach for interesting compositions and quickly found multiple in the wonderful conditions. During the workshops I generally don’t shot much as I prefer to spend most of my time answering questions, looking at images as everyone creates them, giving some hints and tips and pointing out opportunities as they arise in regards to changes in conditions with light or tides etc. As the light changed we moved from the beach to the small gorge where Calla Lilies line a small creek leading into the Pacific. This gave us the opportunity to work both the still even light in the back of the gorge and the backlighting opportunities nearer to the beach.

After a couple of hours at the beach the sun started to become a bit harsh and our stomachs started calling so we packed up and headed back into Carmel to one of my favorite breakfast places. One of my favorite part of any workshop I teach are the meals, that’s the time we really get to know each other, sitting down and discussing the morning session was a blast. It just so happens that a few of us were also portrait and wedding shooters so marketing, pricing, and general stories about our experiences were a hot topic of conversation.

After a wonderful breakfast we were off to the nearby Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo where we had an opportunity to focus on the beautiful gardens and architecture that make it such a wonderful subject. Founded in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra, it has the honor of being the headquarters of the Alta California Missions until Father Junipero Serra’s death in 1784 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places along with being a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The mission has a number of beautiful subjects to focus your lens on and is always a favorite of my workshop groups, before we left we made sure to take a quick group photo.

Our afternoon was filled with some time for relaxation and a lecture on one of my favorite subjects, the creative process of landscape photography. I think it’s important to note that the technical aspect of creating an image is only a small part of creating a powerful and emotional image of nature. It takes a lot of hard work, preparation and patience, oops, sorry Lori, I meant discipline, lol to make an image that goes beyond the basic point-and-shoot mentality that many people have regarding landscape and nature photography. But anyway, that’s all part of the lecture.

For sunset we headed out to one of the most striking scenes along this or any coast, McWay Falls. McWay Falls and a gentle and majestic waterfall that empties onto the beach and then immediately into the Pacific Ocean. We again arrived early to scout the area and decide on our compositions. As a group we split ourselves between the two best vantage points to capture the falls and the lovely cove that surrounds it. As the sun fell to the horizon it lit up the falls beautifully, in fact it was one of the best light displays I’ve seen there. We continued to photograph for some time as the light in the sky changed and the color of the overall scene with it until the light was gone and we started the drive back to the motel. All together we had a long but very productive and exciting day.

Day Two

Sunday morning was another early wakeup call as we had a bit of a longer drive ahead of us to reach our sunrise location and of course, light waits for no one. I’d scouted a particularly nice wooden fence built upon a rolling hill lined with poppies on Friday afternoon and thought it would make a great place to start the day, I was right. Everything seemed to fall just right as the eastern sky was filled with beautiful wispy clouds that were colored red by the rising sun. This location was also a great opportunity to use graduated ND filters to balance the exposure of the foreground and sky, something I touched on the day before during our mid-day lecture. After photographing the early morning away we continued along one of my favorite roads until ending up at Bixby Bridge where we stopped to make a few images of the gentle and beautifully curved structure.

Breakfast was again a wonderful time to converse and share ideas on photography before heading to the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea. During my workshops I like to take some time to explore any local photography galleries. As we explore I point out elements of success within the images and encourage participates to look at such things as light and composition and think about what makes the images succeed.

After a much-needed break to rest up and get ready for the rest of the day we meet back up for our classroom session where I discussed Raw image workflow, preparing your images for print both via a professional lab and for the do-it yourselfers at home. I also demonstrated some advanced masking techniques, how to keep blown out highlights from printing paper white and how to dual process Raw files for single image HDRs. That’s what I call a great afternoon!

As five o’clock came upon us we headed to dinner at one of the area’s best Italian restaurants, Vito’s. This place is amazing, the food is wonderful and the owners are one of a kind, friendly and I don’t think they ever forget a face. We toasted to a wonderful workshop and passed around the prints that everyone brought as part of the print sharing. The print sharing is something I always look forward to, it’s great to see the type of work that everyone does. We always have a wonderful time-sharing images in a warm and friendly environment and talking about the successful elements of everyone’s work and incorporating the things we’ve learned over the last two days.

We ended the workshop at my favorite sea arch, the conditions were again amazing, the light was beautiful and the images I saw on everyone’s lcd’s were awesome, exactly how I like to end a workshop. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s images in the Flickr group as they get busy organizing and processing them.

If you’re interested in attending any of my upcoming workshops please head over to the workshop section of my website to see what’s coming up.

Additional Images from the workshop












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