One of the great things about Northern California is the diversity of world class subjects within a few hours drive. From my front door in four hours or less I can photograph Big Sur, Monterey/Carmel, San Francisco, Point Reyes, Muir Woods, the Napa Valley wine country, Mt. Shasta, Lake Tahoe, Mono Lake, and Yosemite (plus many lesser known scenic locations). And after Don Smith's Mendocino workshop last week (BTW, as much as I love leading workshops, I really enjoyed assisting for a change--all the good stuff like taking pictures and working with the students, but none of the headaches like, "Do I really want to drag them out of bed at 5 a.m. if there's too much fog for sunrise?") I can add to this list of Northern California locations I've photographed the Mendocino coast, an underrated (beyond California) destination with rocky shorelines, redwood forests, and in late spring, blooming rhododendrons.
The redwood forests along California's north coast are so dense that even at midday it feels like dusk. I took today's shot 3 1/2 hours after sunrise on an overcast morning. Despite the late hour the fog and thick redwood canopy required a one second exposure at f8 and ISO 400. Fortunately the morning was completely still, allowing me to maintain sharpness despite the long exposure.
A frequent topic of discussion during the workshop was managing and prioritizing the limiting factors of the scene. Don and I advised the participants to be aware of how the elements at hand affect what you're trying to do. When we shot along the coast a primary limiting factor was the wind, which played havoc with our attempts to photograph the abundant wildflowers. Since depth of field is so key in most wildflower images, the top priority was the f-stop and we compromised other factors, such as bumping the ISO or removing the polarizer to get the desired result. Even so getting depth of field right sometimes required a slower than ideal shutter speed and waiting for brief lulls in the wind.
The limiting factor in the redwood forest this morning was the limited light. Fortunately wind wasn't a factor, so I could make a one second shutter speed work. (The air is rarely perfectly still, so while I might have made two seconds at ISO 200 work, I decided the slight increase in noise was not worth the extra softness I risked by doubling my shutter speed.) If there had been a perceptible breeze I'd have probably gone f5.6, making sure the foreground rhododendrons were in focus (and tolerating a little softness in the forest background) before increasing to ISO 800, but I'd have gone to ISO 800 before dropping to f4.
All these mental machinations are because the pieces necessary for a good image rarely fit perfectly into place--we usually have to compromise something (sometimes even the composition itself). What's essential is to think about the factors and make intelligent choices. I can usually forgive myself when I make a conscious decision that doesn't work out; I'm much less forgiving when I realize I missed an opportunity because I failed to think it through. Did I make the right decisions on this morning? Maybe yes and maybe no (hindsight is 20/20), but I'm certainly satisfied with my results here, so there's no second-guessing today.
Next post: June 22 (to view previous posts, click the arrow in the upper left of today's image)
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