Beach Scenes – a short walk, a meaningful image

On the fourth day (Thursday) of my workshop with Jay Maisel in 2012, after a morning spent the morning catching up on image critiques, we were taken for lunch to little whole in the wall place that served only two kinds of Chinese dim-sum – sesame bread pork sandwiches and something else. As usual, Jay told us what was best (his favorite) and gave us that look that said: “Hey, I just told you what was the best thing here, but you can make up your own mind.” After lunch we had maybe one-and-a-half hours before we were due back at “The Bank” (Jay’s home, and where we met for the workshop). Jay gave us this advice: “You are going to use this time to prove to yourself that you don’t need a lot of time to make meaningful images.”

Beginning last summer, I have made it a point to take short walks on at the near-by beaches (about 30 minutes away) to spend time with my husband and to see what kind of “meaningful images” I could make in that short time. Last weekend I came upon this scene showing the beach life reflected in the front glass of the new lifeguard stations at Leo Carrillo State Beach. The beach infrastructure was severely impacted by by the Woolsey Fire last summer and all of the historic wooden lifeguard stations have been replaced by these fiberglass pod-like structures. A couple of my all-time favorite images will never be able to be reproduced due to these changes. Another thing Jay taught us at the workshop: “Never assume you can go back.”

More about Jay and the Jay Myself movie

Jay Maisel is one of America’s master photographers and I was lucky enough to take a workshop with him at his infamous “Bank Building” in the Bowery NYC in May 2012. Jay is amazing: his photographic achievements, his approach to life, his creativity, his authenticity. In 2015, Jay sold the bank building and as he moved out, Stephen Wilkes made a documentary film, called Jay Myself, about Jay, his building, and the moving process . You can find some background and the bank building here, and more information about the movie Jay Myself show times at the Laemmle theatre page.  Jay Myself will be showing at Laemmle Royal in Santa Monica CA form August 16 – 22nd 

Little Man

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When my husband and I just want to get out of the house on a hot summer day we will often head to one of the small Malibu beaches. We take the windy 30 minute drive through the Santa Monica mountains, find an open parking spot on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), and step out to a refreshing ocean breeze and air temperatures at least 10-degrees cooler.

The free beaches in LA are a great social equalizer open to all walks of life and economic classes. There is always a story and I always bring a camera. Although the direct lighting is often a struggle, reflecting harshly on the great Pacific Ocean, the payoff are the people, timeless setting, and the stories to be found.

This image, like many street images, was a gift with all the elements aligning just right. I am on wooden staircase leading down from PCH. To get to the beach, you must first cross this strip of asphalt. It was likely once a piece of PCH itself  but is now closed providing pedestrian access to the coast.

This littleman surfer was walking up the road. I am attracted to by color and gesture – orange and blue complementary colors, the turquoise of his boogie board tying in with the ocean scene. He glances up at me, but keeps walking. He is trailed by a sandy-white dog dragging his leash, I do not know if they belong to each other. The dog’s color is in harmony with the road slowly returning to its natural unpaved state. These two subjects are tied together by the nostalgic lifeguard stand in the mid ground, adorned by a single seagull perched in profile on the roof. There are many other small details adding to the story: the single communication line leading into the lifeguard station and the silhouette of the tiny people in the surf. The one tiny person standing with arms slightly raised and feet spread provides a special visual gift by showing this fully detailed outline. Even the scraggy row of cactus at the bottom of the image provides locational cues and a compositional base to this southern California scene.

It is a bright sunny day. Before getting out of the car, I mount a fixed 50mm equivalent lens and set the camera to f/11, ISO 400, with the center focus point turned on. Images will appear and disappear quickly. There will be no time to frame with a zoom or fuss with focus or other settings. Little Man gave me this gift within 5-minutes of our arrival.

Wall to Wall People – Working with Complexity

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When it comes to my street photography, I am heavily influenced by the work of Alex Webb and David Alan Harvey. Both of these photographers are known for their highly layered complex images with compositions that play with the juxtapositions of near and far subjects. Though these compositions are quite complex, each image is collection of clearly identifiable scenes and interactions, each playing out in their own space within the image.

Here is a set of images from Santa Monica Beach taken during the busy July 4th weekend. The bright sun and harsh light adds to this colorful and active scene. Images were taken with the Olympus OM-D EM-1 and 17mm lens (35mm effect focal) prime lens. Although you may think that with these more complicated the scenes, a zoom lens would help manage what is in the frame, however, I find it easiest when I stick to a fixed focal length and move my feet to find the right location then wait for the moment.

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El Matador Beach – The need for contrast

El Matador BeachEl Matador Beach, Malibu CaliforniaIlford Delta 100, Hasselblad 500 C/M, 80mm T*, D76 1+1

As I work in Medium Format (2-1/4 x 2-1/4 film), I’m looking for simple shapes and compositions. There were some very lovely simple compositions at El Matador this weekend, but they weren’t very effective in B&W. I’ve been thinking about B&W and intellectually understood the need for contrasts, but it wasn’t until I evaluated this image in with my other, simpler, images, that I understood just a little bit better.

I didn’t take this image in medium format, but I wish I had.

Reeds

Although southern California was supposed to have been in the midst of a significant high-pressure heat wave, the night before last these clouds started to move in. We had planned a trip to Santa Barbara just to escape the heat but with the slight cloud cover, I guessed that even in mid-afternoon, I could catch some nice light.

I took with me my Oly OMD E-M5 with the Panasonic 25mm (50mm equiv) f/1.2, the Hasselblad 500 C/M and 80mm f/2.8, and my tripod. Both kits cover roughly the same field of view on their respective cameras. My intention was to continue to work as I have been doing, meter and judge composition with the Oly and take a roll of beach scenes on the Hassy. I’ve been wanting to limit myself to B&W, but when I got to the beach and experienced the wonderful peaceful pastel blues, I knew I was going to load the camera with color. I’m currently exploring Kodak Ektar 100 for the outdoor color work.

Using a little bracketing and a polarizer filter, I shot 4 scenes on my 12 exposure roll, plus a few scenes of some kids playing in the surf. I told myself I wouldn’t use film for my street stuff, but I just couldn’t help myself. When I get the film back and scanned I will post a comparison between the two setups. I am hoping to see both the change in perspective (25mm vs 80mm covering roughly the same field of view) and the difference between my best digital color balance versus the colors captured on film. Even this image show above was difficult to obtain a good color balance between the sky and the land and took a fair amount of tweaking and some selective color balance adjustments.

I filled up my 12 exposures and then started back to the car. We were on the sidewalk when I saw the composition above. I didn’t take this image in medium format, but I wish I had. With a simple composition and expansive view, this image represents all that I am looking to create with my exploration of medium format photography.

This is what I saw in this scene that triggered my exposure. The reeds on the right mimic the shape and create a balance with the land forms coming from the left. The slightly diagonal strip of sand provides movement and direction leading the eye through the image. The gulls sitting on the left are balancing to the cluster of boats on the right. The darker hues below the horizon balance out with the large area of baby blue sky. The greenish moss floating on top of the water lead the eye into the image from the bottom and the clouds bound it from the top. And last, but not least, the people on the sandbar, with their brightly, colored towels add just a touch of context, human interest, and scale.