Ever changing plans and missed opportunities

As with this past Autumn, and the Spring before it, I had high hopes for this years wet season as it was to be the first winter I would have to put over a years worth of research into action.  My plans to start things off with a tour of coastal locations – mainly sea-caves, from Santa Barbara to San Diego over the extended Christmas weekend had to be put off until New Years, then MLK weekend, and now I’m looking at this coming Presidents day weekend as my last chance till next season but the window of ideal sun and tides is mostly gone.  I may very well end up down south anyway but will probably be catching more waves than photographs, cue the margaritas.

In 2015, after years photographing wine country that I realized my portfolio was sorely lacking in seascapes, so I decided to change that.  Thus began the location scouting; by using all the amazing resources available to us average citizens these days, I methodically scoured the entire california coast, starting with known locations I had yet to visit and/or get a good shot of, then I just went looking for any feature that seemed like it would yield an interesting image. I focused particularly close attention to sea caves and waterfalls (tide-falls).  I was totally blown away by how may caves there are along the California Coast, I dont why it took me this long but it was the search for seascapes that ultimately led me to finally get my ass in gear, and approach photography in this exhaustive and through way -not just shooting locally.  I quickly expanded to Oregon and Washington then the inner mountain northwest, as well as the 4 corner states and even points east of the Mississippi to expand my personal database of locations. Just as in wine country I explored the wondrous joys of overhead and birds eye view  satellite imagery, aerial photos, astronomical/oceanic calendars and 3d topographic mapping engines, such as NASA Worldwind-  better than google earth.  As I complied all this information it was plotted onto a custom google map, which provides real time traffic – super cool ! One thing all these great resources don’t provide is a substitute for seeing a place with your own eyes.  Panorimo can certainly help verify things but its not until you actually get out there and scout a place that you realize what looked like a short 5 foot skip and a leap is actually 25 feet sheer drop.

Once I set out to visit a new location I call it the “Discovery Phase”, this is my favorite part of the landscape photography process.  Getting in the car, driving somewhere far, and then hiking into unfamiliar territory. I loved doing this before I ever picked up a camera and it is during this time when hope and imagination are limitless.  The excitement of discovery is sometimes validated, but more often it is not.  Many places just don’t pan out as desired or are proven to be inaccessible.  With seascape especially, the constant change of sand levels, swell heights, tides, and erosion can wreck havoc on the best laid plans, and this doesn’t even take into count the quality of light on any given opportunity. In early 2016 I started out with a smartphone full of locations on my google maps and used up a couple weekends making initial visits to many locations, mostly caves and waterfalls, from northern Mendocino County down to Santa Cruz. Did I mention how many freaking caves there are on these stretches of coast alone !!!- its mind-boggling!  While many are completely inaccessible by land – even at the lowest negative tides, plenty of them are doable under various conditions.  Ive counted around 65 caves, and a few arches that  I hope to visit on foot – due to shadows on the aerial and satellite imagery – I know I missed some.

Below are a few screenshots of my google maps… so many places, so little time.  I can’t be the only who uses maps this way and it begs the question: why isn’t there an app like this.   There probably is, or will be soon enough and thats a real problem.  Amateur photographers like me are ever increasing in numbers.  The more we visit these fragile beautiful wild places the more we damage them.  Then we share the images and others find their way to these places – the cycle keeps going.  Not everyone has the same ecologically conservative conscience, and eventually groups of kids who saw a cool photo on Instagram want to go party there- leaving graffiti and garbage behind.  The Increased foot traffic, off-trail hiking, overflow parking, crowds, garbage vandalism, angry neighbors, etc all take their toll.  The internet is full of stories about the consequences that photography in the age of social media have on the sensitive landscapes that we love.  Respect the location your visiting, and don’t give away your locations to strangers or people who won’t be discreet, even if the location is already “popular”, more people visiting is never a good thing.  If someone really wants to find a place, they should do it the old fashioned way, by doing some homework and then taking a hike.


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Not every location in CA by a long shot- just the ones I’m focusing on…..about 175 and counting …..

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Locations Change  – something I learned first hand on two occasions this year.

Loss of an unknown treasure ? One of the first places I wanted to investigate after compiling my great list was a possible waterfall from a small drainage not too far from the bay area, in an area with some interesting history  see Godons Chute.  As I will explain, I never had the opportunity to get a good shot though I scouted the area twice.  Maybe others have photographed this spot, but i haven’t seen any image of it.  That isn’t saying much though – so if anyone knows of an image I would love to see it.

Here is an aerial shot of the falls

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From a nice outcropping about 80 yards t0 the south I was hoping to get a lower straight-on telephoto shot, roughly level with the falls itself.  I never had the nerve to scramble down the narrow deep muddy ravine that leads out to this platform – the falls weren’t flowing on this scouting trip and It was far to dangerous as I was alone.  Considering the subsequent collapse of similar nearby terrain – Im glad I didn’t try.  Recently I learned that the ledge I was was considering standing on used to be the top of a large arch – which apparently collapsed during the Loma Prieta Earthquake in ’89.  further reinforcing the nation that these cliffside locations, like sea caves, are inherently dangerous and the absolute last place anyone would want to be when the “Big One” hits.






here is a cameraphone shot from the top of the cliff showing the waterfall ledge area that collapsed(see below)….it would have been nice to see a glowing ribbon of water flowing off that ledge, from a lower down on the aforementioned outcropping with my 70-200.  oh well.











From the overhead satellite images “below” you can see the recent collapse on the left and the prior condition on the right. the land has receded so much now that the actually falls would not be visible from my intended location – and I wouldn’t want to be standing above the falls either…

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On my first visit (1/18/2016) visit I took a close up shot from above the falls looking down(below). While setting up my camera I noticed a small chunk of soil had washed away – seemingly recent. Feeling nervous I got just three shots off when the mirror in my camera broke loose, ending the session.  Ive wondered if that broken mirror maybe didn’t just save my life- who knows!   There is no telling when the collapse actually happened but it was sometime between Feb 2017  and Jan 2016.



Above: My one and only image of the falls actually flowing. Getting a good angle here meant leaning over the cliffs edge,  something I just wasn’t about to do.   Its a good 60+ feet down to the surf, which on this day was large and pounding the cliffs, shaking the ground.  There are actually a series of very large caves under these headlands and the waves crashing into them were creating this loud booming sound which again,  shook the ground.

Here is another new-to-me location that has suffered from the forces of nature, fortunate for me that I was able to catch a shot before mother nature decided to run amok. I stumbled upon this arch while actually attempting to access some nearby sea caves back in April 2016. The caves proved inaccessible but this arch- through which you can see another arch was quite the unexpected consolation prize.  Again I can’t imagine other people haven’t photographed this spot, and I assume they have – but I haven’t seen the proof.  Until then Im calling this spot “double- door”.  There are two arches here – looking through one at the other.  The larger arch in the distance is actually one of three opening in the cliffside- in the photo below  you are looking through directly through – but there is a separate opening to the left out of view.  I think that technically makes three doors, at any rate “double-door” has a nice ring to it.

11-14-16 Two images focused stacked f/8 @ 1 second.



Between my first two visits in mid November and my next in mid December – a prolonged period of extremely large heavy rain and king tides all conspired to keep any good light from hitting this spot and also ripped a large rock off the cliff face and lay it to rest square in the center of this natural arch.  Here is a video of the large and extremely heavy rock or (boulder) I discovered on  12/12/16 that is now blocking what would be a really cool shot when the beam of light through “triple arch”  is strong.


I tried to move the rock, Ha ! I don’t think a team of horses could budge this thing. I also considered taking a wedge and a sledgehammer to break it up – doubt the park service would approve of that though. Originally I pondered if maybe the large surf and high tides had moved the rock and thus- future storms could relocate it once again.  Water is the most powerful force on earth but I still struggle to wrap my mind around how waves could move a boulder like this.  I made several trips here between 11-14-16 and 1-14-17.  After another storm I found another smaller microwave sized rock on the top of the archway. Clearly this one had fallen from above and was extremely heavy for its size as I couldn’t move it either. seeing this second rock likely confirms the theory that it was not the ocean that moved these rocks.  Considering this development, the fact that I spent my first several visits directly up against the base of these cliffs gave me a bit of a chill.  after all there is no cell service here – and no chance anyone would here you scream for help with the noise of waves and wind, not to mention the remote location.  people don’t just wander out here.

From hundreds of shots narrowed down to a dozen,  Here are a few of my favorites from this location.

11/14/16   f16 @ 1/8


“The Elephant” – a vertical orientation taken from below the crumbling cliff: 12-27-16  f18 @ .3


All the crashing waves disrupt the beam of light – in the shot below I merged two images taken seconds apart for a more solid beam of light:

12/28/16  f8 @1/15


After shooting the previous compositions from higher ground for some time and watching the wave behavior, I decided It would be doable to get a great shot of rushing water coming into the cove before I called it a night.  Waiting for a larger set to pass I quickly set up and started shooting the smaller waves, I extended my stay a little bit as the larger sets returned the first wave cresting through the arch sent a wall of whitewash coming my way.  I kept clicking as the wave reach me, ultimately splashing the camera with water and knocking it from it position, I had to lift the camera up above me and the rock I was crouching on, while the water continued to pile on and rise up above my waist.  I was prepared for this scenario but the speed with which it occurred and nearly losing my camera was a bit terrifying.  once the water receded I quickly got out of there.

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On 12/30/16:

 Conditions were really nice and I came away with a number of shots – it was hard to pick just one from this session:




This next shot was really fun to get.  A summer like fog bank was rolling in, and I barley made it out here as the appalling holiday traffic had closed the tunnel to all but residents of this area.  I “pleaded” my case with the authorities and it was game on. Unable to see the horizon from this spot, I had no idea how close the fog bank was getting and thus – how soon the sun would be obscured, canceling the beam of light, but I knew my time was limited. It has been my ideal scenario to get a good sky over head with a clear horizon so I was pumped when the leading edge of fog was started to appear on the sky while the light beam was still happening . The scattered cloud deck was providing a much welcome element to the sky and over all composition but promising to ultimately kill the beam.  Like someone hitting the light switch it suddenly vanished. I decided to hold out for any break in the clouds and waited, about 10 minutes and was ready to pack it up when suddenly, as quickly as it had disappeared, the beam returned and lasted no more than 2 minutes. While this coincided with a lull in the waves,  I was stoked none the less.  This is the best overall scene I was able to get this time around.



One last shot for the year, now the 11 month wait starts over.

_99A3751Good ‘ol Rodeo Beach,  home of the three amigos, aka rodeo stacks, aka three large boulders that everyone photographs.  I like to whine and complain about coming here so often – time constraints kind of force it upon me.  It has been really refreshing this season to find other compositions on this familiar stretch of sand.  Some very large swells this year have moved sand around and when the tides are low – I’ve found a couple new spots to focus on,  in other situations, compositions came to me be chance, by simply avoiding the Amigos and going where the water line led me.


Christmas Day,  our after dinner hike on the beach had a brief window of light…

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Quite a productive night on the coast,  low tides + high surf = good times

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f8 .4 ISO 100


f14 @ .8 ISO 100


f4 @ .4 ISO 400



The first of three consecutive nights with great sunsets in the SF Bay Area.





Night Two – ridiculous …..


I made it out the beach late and unprepared to get down and dirty in the water.  The sky went completely nuts and I ended up soaked….


I went to work right at the place where my trail reached the beach, the lower tides were exposing some rocks, which recent storms have made more visible than normal.


I just stood in the same 10 square foot space of beach – shooting in different directions ….



My 4 stop reverse grad ND is the only one I have and it was a little overkill here …. but ill take it.




By the time I reached these rocks the light had amazing show had mostly faded…



Third weekday in a row – more Rodeo Beach, where else.



I had the best time shooting these rocks, and getting soaked in the process – camera included …


…especially this shot – completely drenched.  The sky over San Francisco Bay was incredible on this night, I had considered Cavallo Point as the tide was right, I kind of regret not staying there, but i figure shooting something new is always better than doing repeats.



Despite living pretty close to this spot for many many years, and being aware of it, I steered clear for whatever reason.  Seeing so many images lately,  I decided it was time to join the crowed.

intersting clouds but not much water ….



lot of water and dramatic skies but turkey gravy light conditions.



Another California Coast waterfall I first visited late 2015 – and I keep coming back hoping for a great sunset as there a lot of sky in the frame while shooting this place.


 A vertical stitch of 5 frames



Finally received some good light here after several visits.  the water wasn’t flowing as much but enough.  What looked to be blazing sky ended up being so-so as the clouds were fizzling.


I was headed back to the car after sunset when I turned around and decided to go back and taker a couple more. the lingering light was just too beautiful…

f8 10 seconds iso 100



Pfeiffer Beach – This years one and only attempt.  Ive had the beam of light here show really strong and some great water action but never had any luck with the sky and overall light conditions.  I made the trek for what promised to be a great sunset, and it was, but the beam ended early as the horizon thickened up.



What started off as a follow up trip to verify tide and sand levels for a number of caves along this stretch of coast ended up being a beautiful evening.  low level clouds formed in the stiff North winds and moved parallel to the coast, filtering the light of the setting sun and making for a some really nice light .


A negative tide left this flat beach just wet enough for some incredible reflections in every direction, Ive never seen sand reflection like this, over a mile of beach with nearly unbroken reflection.


It hasn’t been all seascapes –


We had some nice low fog at the golden gate… I have been wanting to shot low fog from here for about a year, the sunset wasn’t so great which is too bad since the sun is in an ideal location this time of year for such a shot.




Mt Tamalpais –  when the sun reaches its most southern position – the light striking the mountain is really something for a couple weeks.  I made a couple trips up here to capture it.



I’ve come to realize that San Francisco has too many construction cranes culturally the skyline for my tastes, spoiling a lot of shots I wanted to take this winter. However this one spot, which happens to be my personal favorite, is still crane-free.  Below is my attempt at a blend, I actually ended up recreating this shot myself with a friends car on christmas, eve with better results. But it was watching this cab drop someone off that had given me the idea a few weeks earlier.




A cat and mouse game with some amazing mid level clouds on this evening led me to this wonderful location. An amazing place of visual convergence that I am only aware of thanks to the work of Jerry Dodrill Photopgraphy – his work is truly masterful and you can see it here.  The clouds in this image has just dropped rain on this area before moving out to sea minutes before I arrived.  The resulting light, filtered through a few cloud decks, striking this wet environment was just incredibly rich and warm.


Here is a video showing the amazing light …

1/24/17 The greening hills and valleys of west Marin County, I would love to catch some morning light and low fog from up. The likelihood of getting the right conditions is probably 1 in a million and it’s a decent hike. Totally worth it though, so hopefully Ill have something like that to share eventually.

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doing my attempt to stomp Michael Ryan Photography’s work.  all the elements were there, just not quite aligned correctly.



Whew ! well there you have it, that was a long one.  Pat yourself on the back for hanging in there. 2017 is starting off the same way 2016 did,  with high hopes crashing down to reality and resulting in a lot of unplanned and unexpected opportunities.  Photography, after all, is about being in the moment and taking whatever nature gives you.  As I finish writing this the largest storm in years is about to slam into Southern California and my girlfriend is sick, so I guess ill be staying put and shooting local this weekend. That’s ok, there is more than enough to point a camera at around here….