A Visit to Big Sur, CA

Location: Big Sur, CA

After a long drive out of city, through hours of vacant roads in the farm country of the central valley and some curvy roads through wine country in the hills, we made our way to the coast of central California.

There were several landslides and road closures along Highway 1 North so the scenic route was not an option, our trip was scenic anyways:

Here I am spelling it out at Bixby Bridge with a new color-tip design that looks like a crystal (in gallery above).

Tucked away in the heart of the California coastline, Big Sur has some of the darker skies in the country and you can see bright stars at night. During a new moon, it was ideal astrophotography conditions. It was difficult to pick out constellations you could see so many in the sky at once.

Looking North up the rocky coastline:

McWay Light Posse:

The sky was so dark, clear and calm that stars made reflections on the ocean. Here Sirius is backlighting an agave blossom:

Last image I'll leave you with is one of 'Sea and Space'. See more posts about Big Sur, CA by clicking this link.

Big Sur Session

Location: Big Sur, CA

Print Options

If you've read this blog for a while now, you'll already know my love of exploring Big Sur, CA. It's a small coastal pocket of California made accessible by the PCH highway that is literally carved into the cliffs on the West Coast high above the Pacific Ocean. 

The mountains meet the sea in this area, resulting in awe-inspiring 180 degree views of the ocean as well as redwood trees, rivers, creeks and incredible beaches. Here, the weather changes quickly and you'll often see dense fog, rain, and sun, sometimes on the same day.

On this trip, I brought up a pair of water-shoes with me because I wanted to use the reflections of the creek that feeds into Pfeiffer Beach, I was hoping to see some stars out but the cloud coverage was too thick for that!

Here's a link for a dirt-cheap pair of black water shoes if you're interested in this sort of light-painting. At $3.99 you can't really go wrong!

Print Options

Here's a piece of sushi I made with my Night-Writer light-pen using the white, red and blue color-tips. This particular photo was illustrated in the Pacific Valley of Big Sur. If you visit this area in the Spring, you might see a hillside full of purple and orange flowers. The trail to the the coast is just opposite of this landmark.

flowers

Now let's get back to the creek at Peiffer Beach where I put those water shoes to work.

I've been on an Animal kick recently because I think it's an important thing to draw attention toward - Animals can't talk selfies and snapchats like we can, so we have to take sweet pictures of them and make sure everyone in the world knows just how awesome and inspiring they are and how we should try to protect them - it's in our best interest as a human race to do so.

Each species could be a 'canary in a coal mine' (advanced warning) when it comes to large scale environmental changes, let's pay special attention and try our best not to disrupt or cause harm to their fragile ecosystems.

Print Options

Camera Settings for my Sea Dragon (above): F8, ISO 50, 284 second exposure.

Speaking of the environment, what do you think caused this anomaly? A doorway through solid rock at Pfeiffer Beach:

Print Options

After a steep climb at dawn, I gazed on an aerial perspective that may shed some light on how the arch (image above) was formed.

I'm no geologist, but I know that most of the solid rock is actually sandstone, and that water can bore a hole through sandstone if enough time goes by and it has a relatively single point of pressure.

I think this perspective of the beach gives a pretty clear idea of what might have happened. My hypothesis is that the creek bored a hole through the large rock during strong rainfalls. This would have happened over tens of thousands of years:

keyhole creek

Just look at that constant flow here and imagine it going right into the middle of the rock face instead of left into the cove, and yes that sand really is purple:

pieffer flow

Let's end this post with a killer sunset, I hope you've enjoyed it - stay bright!

Check out Big Sur Session II right here.

Smoke on the Water / Fire in the Sky

Location: PCH - Big Sur, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F5.6, ISO 100, 367 seconds. Stars at F2, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DZeiss F2 28mm lensManfrotto 190x tripodWireless Remote, and Night-Writer kit.

This night was unusual in light of the fires going on in Monterey County (Tassajara Fire), just North of the area we were camping at in Big Sur.

Smoke drifted South once the Sun had set and the smell of fire got stronger as I made my way North on the PCH - I pulled over at a spot I thought would be good for catching the Milky Way over the Pacific and captured this image of my light-skeletons looking out into the abyss.

The smoke gave an orangey-yellow hue to the densest part of the Milky Way - I had to do some tough edits on this file to pull out the detail along with some noise reduction.

A great app I've been using for getting rid of the noise is one called 'Noiseless' (for Mac) - it's not perfect, but it's the best I've come across yet. 

For a quick tutorial on how to do composite shots like this - see my EDU section - Q5 - it's at the bottom of the page.

While there are photographers focusing on 'SOOC' - straight out of camera - a practice of light-art in which the image in the camera is untouched (shown as it was captured - not edited in any way). In regards to light art, I am not one of these people - I think technology should be taken advantage of in every aspect it can to give the viewer a better vision of what we as night-photographers are out trying to capture - our nocturnal perspectives.

If it means editing the file to pull out important details in RAW processing, so be it. That's what capturing in RAW format is for - more information contained within your images.

That said, I do not believe in adding things that are not there to begin with. My composites are always taken on location, using two images - taken at two different camera settings - I do this for the purpose of capturing the dynamic range between what's best for capturing the light art, and what's best for capturing the environment.

Spectral Brontosaurus

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F5.6, ISO 100, 230 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6D24-70mm LensManfrotto 190x Tripod, Proto Night-Writer, and Remote shutter.

I had been to this location a few times before and knew about the interesting doorway at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, CA. After checking to see where the Milky Way's position would be around 10pm - I decided to try my luck for clear skies and another spectral dinosaur for my Light-Fossils series.

Luckily, the skies were very clear this night, and the Milky Way looked amazing behind the rock portal.

There were a few other photographers at the same spot, so I was able to make a few new friends and they were nice enough to let me take a few shots between their exposures. They gave me a few insightful pointers as I tried to create the rainbow dinosaur you see above. Longer tail here, more of a spine there, etc.

As fate would have it, one of the photographers - David, runs a Central Coast photography workshop called www.rainbowspirit.com - he was very knowledgeable about the Central Coast area and gave me a few tips on locations I visited the next day. Thank you David!

Here's a shot at Bixby Bridge - a California landmark seen in just about every car commercial.. This image makes me think of this familiar scene.

I'll end this post with a strange image I shot along the PCH heading North towards Bixby Bridge. The Moon is setting into the Pacific Ocean, illuminating a smokey orange horizon caused by the Tassajara Fire - a 1200 acre blaze near Monterey, CA.

Blue Beachside Brontosaurus

Location: Point Dume - Malibu, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 150 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6D,  24-70mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release with blue tipped Night-Writer.

I've been to this beach many times, but hadn't realized that this was the location they filmed the original Planet of the Apes scene with the post-apocalyptic looking statue of liberty.

It's a cool-looking place in person, and great beach, but difficult to shoot with all that moisture in the air! Bring a lens-wipe for sure, you will use it.

Interested in seeing more 'Light-Fossils'? Check out the Light-Fossils Gallery!

Have a question about how this image was captured? Check out my recently updated EDU page - dedicated to the education of light-art photography.

Stargazing Spirits

Location: San Simeon, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light Art at F8, ISO 100, 552 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Prototype Night-Writer

For me, this type of photo could not have been created merely a year ago.

I say this because in the last year I've started getting into compositing very high ISO star-shots along with my very low ISO light-art shots (always shot on location - it's a method I've outlined in this recent blog post).

Combine that with the development of a new light-pen (It's like turning B&W to color TV!) and you have the true holy-grail of technology and art - PROGRESSION.

Marching Bears

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: F8, ISO 100, 288 seconds

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and gelled Night-Writer

I've been to this spot at Pfeiffer Beach many times, and every time it's different - sometimes it's rocky, sometimes you'll see a creek, sometimes a fallen tree, and in this case - hundreds, perhaps thousands of stacked stones.. As if somebody had been stranded on the beach with magic mushrooms as their only food source. 

On that topic, some of the Grateful Dead art has been an inspiration to me for a long time. I remember the first time I visited Haight Street in San Francisco and dug through a bunch of old Fillmore concert poster prints, I was especially drawn to these colorful bears. I must have been about 12 taking in the most wild, creative and colorful artwork I had seen - work by work, from the very political art to the melted letters and psychedelic vibes, it was all very cool then, and it's just as cool now - Here's to keeping that light on, nice and bright.

Yes Sur

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: F8, ISO 100, 189 seconds

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Night-Writer

Big Sur is my special place, a personal paradise that I like to go and clear my head for a few days to feel refreshed and inspired - filling my cup, so to speak.

Each time I visit, is different - the weather changes on a dime and you're never sure whether you'll get clouds, fog, wind, clear skies or a combination of all three in the same day.

The skies here are some of the darkest in California and on a new moon, you can see galaxies far away with an atmospheric glow on the horizon.

Camera Settings: F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds.

Here's the Moon, Jupiter and Venus shot from a pullout off the PCH during Blue Hour.

Camera Settings: F4.5, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Watermelon on the Pier

Location: San Simeon, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 30 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds.

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Night-Writer with Roscolux color-gels.

How does that saying go.. 'You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family.'

Let's apply that premise to light-art and say that you can choose your subject, but you can't choose the weather. That was the theme of our last trip up the California Coast - 2 days of partly clear skies and the rest, a cloudy mess. Happy to snap a few good ones during those clear hours, one of which you see here - the newest edition to the Light-Morsels gallery.

For more info on how to create your own light-art composites featuring the stars in your background - check out my cherries on top blog post!

 

Treading Light

Location: Glass Beach - Fort Bragg, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 156 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Night-Writer.

When I was here last several months ago, there was a staircase being constructed. I'd imagine by now that staircase is operational.

At the time, we scaled the cliffs to this spot on a new moon, which makes for a great view of the stars, but difficult for hiking. I hope the sea-glass shore stays the way it is - but I know it won't.

Check out the full set of light-fossil images.

It's 5 o'clock somewhere.

Location: Malibu, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 128 seconds, Wave at F4, ISO 1600, 10 seconds.

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6D24-70mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Canon 600ex Speedlite.

Originally, I was standing where the mug is pictured, trying to figure out where to frame the shot so it would capture the coastline.. That was when the spray from a large wave hit me from behind.

They say 'Never turn your back on the Sea' and that was the first thing that came to mind after getting soaked. Luckily, the spray hit me and not my camera gear - and that's what gave me this idea for the shot.

Cheers to the Sea - you always win.

 

 

Shots of Color

Location: Torrey Pines Beach - San Diego, CA / Settings: F6.3, ISO 100, 204 seconds

shots of color

I'm hoping that the light-pen tool I've been designing for the past few years is going to make light-art a bit more interesting.

For many years I've been using different LEDs for different colors - stopping the illustration to switch tools for every color in the dark - it's really annoying and does a good job at breaking my concentration.

So I've come up with a solution - a light-pen that can change through many colors with a click of your thumb. This (image above) was the first I created using the prototype - which is still very slowly being worked on - meeting by meeting, phase by phase. Not done yet, not even close.

I like to think of it like a rough gem - it looks like any old rock now, but with a little refining and polishing, it could be great! 

Innovation is a trying process, but in my mind's eye, it is a crystal clear vision. 

torrey pines coastline

A foggy coast looking south to La Jolla Shores in San Diego, CA.

United Skeletons

Ice cream

Location: Rincon Point - Ventura, CA / Settings: F5.6, ISO 100, 55 second exposure

I've been on a food kick lately.. But it's ok, these unhealthy foods are all very light on calories ;)

orange flame

Here's the view of the same location on the South side - If you've ever driven on the 101 from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara at night you're sure to see this giant orange flame on the side of the freeway coming from the oil refinery. 

Psychedelic Coast

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: F5.6, ISO 100, 215 seconds

This is by far the coolest tent I've ever slept the night in. I felt like I had to do the psychedelic vibe of it justice with a colorful prism style light-painting.  

The Devil's Brick

This image is based on a dream I had where I was walking on a beach and there was a sudden Tsunami, everyone starts running from the crashing waves and as I start running, a girl with a worried look shoves a bag to my chest. I look inside the bag for an instant to see a glowing red brick - hot like coals. I quickly bury the bag in sand and look up to see a charred man with cracks of glowing red on his skin in a suit looking down at me - he says 'I believe you have something of mine'.. I reply ' I believe you are mistaken' and then wake up. 

Distant Lights

Shiny-bone jones under starry skies at glass beach.

Ebbs and Flows

Location: La Jolla, CA / Settings: F7.1, ISO 100, 266 second exposure

For this image I knew I wanted a reflection, but I need to thank my trusty new Dorcy Dive-light  for the underwater highlights. I put my arm into the water from behind the camera and directed it toward the horizon for this shot. Any night-shooter that lives near a large body of water needs a good underwater light source - this is a solid, bright and durable light-source.

fishes

Caught a few fishes swimming in some test shots.

parting the sea

I thought this area looked familiar, so I added a skeletal Moses parting the sea for good measure.

Last but not least - the seafood special.

Happy Trails

Location: Pacific Coast Valley - Big Sur, CA

happy trails

I can't do a place like this justice in photographs. 

a nice sunset

For these kind of moments you just have to experience it first-hand. 

pacific coast valley

Blue-hour at the Pacific Valley Bluff trail in Big Sur, CA.

coast valley at night

I hope some of these images will encourage you to take a long drive to somewhere you are curious about

Here's a link to the trail I took this images at.

Two-tone Styracosaurus

Location: Bodega Bay, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 250 second exposure. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

After illustrating so many different dinosaurs, I'm happy to have found a new way to do the same thing. The two-tone colors and the myriad combinations they present make me stoked on creating a new style of light-fossils.. Upping the ante a bit I hope! 

Initially, I came to this spot in Bodega Bay because of it's unique geographic features and sweet views down the coast:

bodega bay location

You've got the beach on one side, bay on the other and walking distance between both. 

It's good to have options, and I wasn't as impressed with this view of the beach as I was with the back-lit sand and grass in the direction I had just walked in from. The ambient light from a nearby campground's street-lights were casting a yellowish light on the beach, which you can see here:

bodega beach

To sum up my feelings of Bodega Bay - it was a quiet historic town on the water, and a great place for seafood. More to come from this location.

Tide-pools

Location: La Jolla, CA / Settings: F8, ISO 100, 196 second exposure

The texture at this spot in La Jolla, just south of the cove a few miles and popular tide-pools, reminds me of something you'd be looking at under a microscope rather than the life-size it is here.

It's interesting to see relations between the infinitely large and infinitely small, maybe we can learn something.

Another feature to this place is the abundance of tiny sea-snails, you can barely see them as small black specks surrounding the small pools. They were sharp enough to cut the bottom of my feet as I traversed the slick rock!

Rainbow Plesiosaur

Location: Torrey Pines State Beach - San Diego, CA / Settings: F5.6, ISO 200, 292 second exposure.

This is a bit different from my other light-fossil work, this is the first one where I've used the full color spectrum.

The reason behind this is that I've been working on a new light-pen tool with the help of a 3d printing space in LA to make a light-pen that can toggle through colors of the rainbow with the click of your thumb as you draw - without changing writing tools or fidgeting with awkward buttons.

There's a long road ahead toward the goldilocks model of this tool, but it's well on it's way and you can start to see some of it's progress here. Very excited to share more about this project soon.