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Setting Crescent, Shell Beach, Sonoma Coast

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 30 May 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

In Northern California we're blessed not just with beautiful scenery, but also with an amazing variety of beautiful scenery. Mountains, ocean, and desert are all within a few hours drive of my home. On the coast Big Sur gets lots of justifiable attention, but no less spectacular is the coastline north of San Francisco to the Oregon border (and beyond). The entire length of this breathtaking land/sea interface, skirted by the twisting and often precarious Highway 1, offers an endless assortment of photogenic cliffs, coves, and beaches.

Familiarity is a significant factor in consistent photographic success, and because I don't spend as much time on the coast as I do in the mountains, it sometimes takes me a while to feel comfortable photographically there. I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by the crashing surf and unobstructed vistas, loosing sight of the details that make a coastal scene special. (It's a good lesson for me, as I imagine it's similar to the way my workshop students feel the first time they try to photograph Yosemite.) When I return from Big Sur or the Northern California coast I'm often disappointed by the volume of "merely" pretty pictures that nevertheless lack that elusive quality that makes them stand out from all the other pretty Pacific Coast pictures.

On recent trips to the coast I've made an effort to identify and capture the qualities that most appeal to me. The violent collision of surf and sand and the defiant rocks are obvious places to start. Another quality that excites me anywhere, and that is made particularly dramatic by the unobstructed ocean horizon, is the vivid color marking the transition between day and night.

My brother and I planned this trip with these elements in mind, and timed it for a crescent moon that would set shortly after sunset. We started with sunrise on the Marin Headlands, photographing the Golden Gate Bridge with the San Francisco skyline in the background. The next stop was the coastal redwoods of Muir Woods, and then on to Point Reyes National Seashore. We meandered up the coast with no particular destination in mind, stopping at whatever scene struck our fancy, before finally ending up at sunset here at Shell Beach, north of Bodega Bay.

This was the first time I'd been here, but I knew immediately it had everything I was looking for. Unfortunately, there was nothing happening in the sky to make for an interesting sunset, so we shot a bit and waited for the moon. As the daylight faded, the moon's thin crescent materialized in the electric, post-sunset color. There was still enough light to reveal ample detail in the shadowed beach, rock, and surf, but photographing the scene required me to choose between the colorful highlights or the textured shadows.

Opting for the highlights required me to render the shadows as silhouettes; I found these rocks and positioned them against the lighter ocean and sky, then metered on the brightest part of the sky, choosing exposure settings that would retain the color. That took care of the rocks, twilight color, and moon, but what about the surf? I quickly realized that an occasional wave would strike the rocks with the combination of size and angle of attack that caused a skyward explosion. I dropped my tripod to sand level, composed my frame, and waited for my wave.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Your images always make me dream... so beautiful ! Thanks again for sharing.

30 May 2010 8:00am

✿ Anina ✿ from Auckland, New Zealand

WOW! Perfect as always. Lovely tones and silhouettes. The peach and blue are gorgeous.

30 May 2010 9:38am

Fred from Manila, Philippines

The perfect composition. Nothing tops this one for that day Gary. I love how you used the moon as the pivot point for the two islands to balance in. Good job!

30 May 2010 11:52am

Michelle from Elverson, United States

Wonderful light and color. This image is exquisite!

30 May 2010 12:35pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

I love so much here! The reflection in the foreground is my favorite part- and the crescent moon adds another dimension to this already beautiful scene.....Of all the moons phases, the little fingernail crescent is my favorite! :)

30 May 2010 3:02pm

CherishedKeepsakePhotography from Chapmanville, United States

magnificent capture.. the image has beautiful tones.. and plenty of little details to have the eye travel throughout..

30 May 2010 3:09pm

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

A photo? Are you sure? I would say a watercolor... Magnificent!!!

30 May 2010 5:37pm

Julie from Le Cannet des Maures, France

à couper le souffle !!!

30 May 2010 7:36pm

Steve from Camdenton, United States

Nice capture of the moon and ocean, a very nice shot! I do like the timing of the wave, it adds just a little more detail to the scene.

30 May 2010 9:16pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria


30 May 2010 10:20pm

Sandy Weston from Madison, Maine, United States

I love the layered colors of blue and the constant of the moon .....great silhouettes!

30 May 2010 11:47pm

Dutch from Chicagoland, United States

Another magic moon but I think what I like about this image is the reflections in the water.. really adds to the layering of light.

31 May 2010 1:08am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

excellent composition and idea! the strong silhouettes are excellent as are the colours and their transition across the sky! the crescent moon and the crashing wave are wonderful touches that complete this shot!

31 May 2010 3:37am

dkc from Xanthi, Greece

I find the clarity of this photo amazing...capturing the wave, the dark rock silhouettes and the two face moon all at once should be really difficult.

31 May 2010 6:15pm

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Nice image. It is nicely balanced and with a fantastic light and colors.

1 Jun 2010 2:38pm

MontereyJohn from Salinas, California, United States


1 Jun 2010 10:05pm

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

I love the composition and the color. I am totally awed by your process. Thanks for sharing it.

2 Jun 2010 2:38am

Scott F. Schilling from San Martin, United States

This has such a contrast of warm/cold color range in the sky and then a perfect exposure for the moon and sky - I guess you followed your advice in your Outdoor Photographer article! I like this moon exposure because you didn't just get the sliver in your exposure, but you captured the full light around the disk of the moon, which for me adds additional interest! Then I like that you waited for that splash on the rock - Great work and color - Have a great day!

3 Jun 2010 2:24pm

Dimitrios, think positive. from ATHENS, Greece


8 Jun 2010 1:09pm

Marie from FRESNES, France

superbe atmosphère.

10 Jun 2010 7:46am

olga from Romania

a lot of talent-hahhy to see your work.

28 Jun 2010 5:50pm