This Sunday I was on my way back from Warner Springs Ranch a few hours south of Los Angeles when I got a call from one of my windsurfing buddies. Kevin was calling to tell me that Jalama Beach was going to be going off all day long. I have been trying to get out there on a good day for the past several months but the conditions and timing have always been off. When I finally made it home around noon I quickly packed up my Jeep with all my kitesurfing and camera gear, downloaded photos from the previous day at Warner Springs, made lunch, changed clothes and set out for a 3 hour drive to Jalama Beach. After sitting in stop and go traffic for several hours on the way out of LA I finally arrived at the beach around 4pm. With sunset around 7:30pm there was still plenty of time to scout some shots and watch the action. I was going to sail but decided to work on some photos instead. The conditions were marginal and the water is still chilly. Over the past couple of months I have been trying to take action shots from the beach using my 200mm lens and a 2X teleconverter. This setup is basically a poor man’s super-telephoto lens and typically results in poor results. The teleconverter adds too much glass into the lens system and softens up the image. I don’t have the big lenses to do the tight shots from the beach so I thought might as well not pretend that I do. I was frustrated with the results I was getting and decided to change tactics. The most recent issue of Climbing Magazine was a huge photo issue and I was inspired by the photos in that magazine that showed great action in a nice scenic landscape shot. Instead of tight, close in action shots, the photos were wide, pulled out views showing everything around the climber. As a reader you almost had to search around the image to even find the climber. I wanted to do the same thing with my windsurfing and kitesurfing photos. Landscapes are my specialty, now I just have to add someone sailing to them. With a new vision courtesy of a rock climbing magazine and armed with my 17-55mm and 70-200mm lenses I set out to capture some great scenic shots with great action in them. In every photo I took I tried to incorporate some element of the surroundings; a lifeguard stand, seaweed on the beach, the huge cliffs, people and gear laying around the beach. Anything that would compliment the action on the water and help the person who would eventually see the photo understand what was going on there. There are so many other emotions that a rider feels on the water that are a result of their surroundings. Hopefully these photos convey some of those feelings to a non-rider. Another tip in the climbing magazine related to getting the angle you want and not letting anything get in your way of producing your vision. In climbing photography this is a much bigger challenge but I applied the same principle to my shoot this day. The cliffs at Jalama are what set it apart and make the beach instantly recognizable to people in the windsurfing world. I wanted to get a shot with those cliffs in the background. To get the angle I needed I really needed to be in the water. My best bet was a cliff a half mile down the beach that jutted out into the ocean. I climbed up the cliff with my gear and walked about a quarter of a mile along the edge to a spot that stuck out farther into the ocean than the rest of the cliff. This provided me with the angle I needed to look back onto the beach without having to actually get in the 50 degree water. Being up on the cliff gave me the added bonus of an aerial perspective which always produces unique photos. A cliff is the next best thing to having a helicopter. Getting to vantage points like this aren’t without risk. On the hike down I ended up slipping and falling down a steep section of the cliff with my camera hanging on my shoulder. I fell backwards onto the camera and ended up dragging it in the sand on my way down the cliff. I ended up with a few scratches and bruises but more importantly there was no harm done to the camera gear even though it had been submerged in the sand. The photos that I took were the best windsurfing shots that I have taken in a while. I was very pleased with my final batch of photos. It took a completely different sport to get me to see my two favorite sports in a new way.
These photos have been a very long time coming. Last October, well before I moved out west, I took up a short trip up to Virginia Tech to visit my younger sister who was just starting college up there. I timed the trip to line up with the changing of the leaves in the Fall on the East Coast. The timing for these trips has to be perfect in order to catch the peak of the colors. I usually block off two weeks in October as potential trip dates and I don’t plan any other events in my life. This way I can leave on a moments notice and head north. I had my two weekends lined up and the first weekend had bad reports for Fall Foliage so I called that weekend off and stayed home. The following week showed a really good trend in the colors changing and the reports were saying the upcoming weekend would be the peak. I packed up my gear and started the long drive up to Virginia. I got up to the foggy mountains of Blacksburg, Virginia pretty much in the middle of the night and couldn’t see a thing. Pretty scary drive in the mountains and zero visibility fog. I always find it great to drive up on a Fall Foliage trip at night. By the time you get up to where there are colors it is dark and you can’t really see any of the trees. Then, when you wake up the next morning you are surrounded by bright colors everywhere. Going from bland Central Florida and then waking up to bright colors is incredible. Instead of a gradual transition to the color you are instantly immersed in it. The past couple of years that transition has been overwhelming at times. The purpose of this trip was more to go visit my sister with the hopes that I would get a few good photos around the Virginia Tech area. While my sister was in class the first day I was up there I took off on a short day hike to some waterfalls that one of her friends had tipped me off to. There were supposedly a few waterfalls along a 1 mile long trail at a small park. After a couple of hours driving through amazing Western Virginia Countryside and Farmland I found the small road that led up into the mountains and to the park I wanted to hike in. The day was pretty cold and overcast, the later being perfect for photographing fall colors. Overcast skies above a thick forrest canopy allow for nice long exposures to saturate the colors and allow for the “soft water” effect from the water moving in the exposure. Always a classic technique for water shots. I started my hike and immediately saw the potential for great panoramic photos. The stream that flowed alongside the trail was the perfect stream with perfect boulders. It was exactly what I was looking for that weekend. Every bend in the stream that I came to provided me with a great photo. It took me several hours to hike 1 mile to the main waterfall. There were several small waterfalls along the trail but I was not prepared for the large one at the end of the trail. I was not expecting such a beautiful waterfall in this area. The main falls emptied into a small lagoon type of area and then trickled down granite slabs back down the trail I had just come up. Photographing the Main Fall was very difficult. The force of the falling water was creating a huge amount of spray. I had to frame up my photo, clean the lens and then take the shot very quickly to avoid water spots showing up on the lens in the image. This waterfall was beautiful but I enjoyed the little stream tumbling over the rocks much more so after taking the photos I wanted at the end of the trail I started back down a different trail that was higher above the stream that lead back to my car. I stopped a few times to take photos of light streaming down through the forrest canopy and lighting up the yellow leaves on the ground. Everything about this small hike was perfectly picturesque. I finished up the hike knowing I had some winners in the photos I took and could have gone home and been happy. Having that afternoon really let me enjoy the rest of the weekend with my sister because I was not constantly thinking about taking photos at every tree we came across. Luckily the photos didn’t stop at that park. On the drive home I came across several picturesque curves in the road lined with bright yellow and red trees. There were no other cars around, the asphalt was new and had a freshly painted yellow line down the middle. The rich black and asphalt provided a great contrast with the yellow trees and the freshly painted centerline on the road matched the trees perfectly, tying everything together. The road shot is my favorite from the trip. On the second day there my sister and I and hike up to a valley overlook and were treated to one of the most spectacular displays of Fall Foliage I have ever witnessed. The entire valley below us was red as far as the eye could see. Rolling hills of red, orange, yellow and colors that defy description. God’s artistry at its best. I took some photos from the valley overlook and that ended the photographic side of my trip. I had some incredible photos, got to hike up in the Blacksburg Mountains and spend some fun times with my sister Christine. The trip was hit and run, which is my specialty and all my planning paid off and I hit the absolute peak of the colors in the area.