There are a lot of great photographers in Santa Cruz. I think that it might be our strongest visual art. Santa Cruz County is such a beautiful place, with so many secret spots and microclimates, that it is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. If it’s foggy at the beach, you can go up into the redwoods to use the soft light to capture wooded landscapes. We have rivers, creeks, waterfalls and even a lake. We have bright open sand dunes and dank murky forests. Photography is the perfect match for this truly special place.
It’s not only the landscape that makes Santa Cruz such a great place for photography, though: it’s the people, too. There is a magnetism to this place that attracts some of the more interesting folks to be found. There are the surfers, the marine biologists, the environmentalists, the artists, the skateboarders, the mountain bikers, the professors, the entrepreneurs, the brewers, the chefs, the foodies, the frisbee golfers, the cannabis community, the techies, the hipsters, the coffee enthusiasts, the moms and dads, the teachers, the activists, the homeless, the politicians, and so much more. All of this beauty and diversity is just waiting to be expressed in photography.
Yesterday, I woke up early to shoot the sunrise as I usually do. There’s a certain spot I like to go for how the waves refract and crash against the cliffs. It’s not the most obvious spot to photograph, but it’s certainly no secret. I often see other photographers using it for their work. I used to always want to find my own spots and if I saw another person with a camera it would kinda ruin it for me. I’d rather be somewhere obscure and unique than crowded next to a bunch of other button pushers getting slight variations on the same scene. Over time, though, I’ve learned that even if people are shoulder to shoulder they end up getting very different shots because photographic style is very personal. Additionally, I’ve come to think that there is a more important element to photography than being unique: it’s connection. Having some sort of personal feelings about a place makes the work more interesting. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get great photos while traveling. There’s something magical about the act of traveling that opens you up to connecting with a place. There’s also something deep about spending a lot of time studying a landscape. These two are the best paths to connection for me: visit new places and keep going back to places you love. Whether other people are shooting them or not is not as relevant.
Well, this morning there weren’t many clouds in the sky but there were huge sets rolling through and smashing against the rocks. Every so often an especially large two wave set would roll through and pound the cliff making the ground shake and throwing huge explosions up into the sky. There were two shots I wanted to get: the crack of dawn with a breaking wave and one of these macking sets smashing against the cliff. With some luck, they both happened at the same time. I was positioned to catch the day break when the largest set of all created a small earthquake. Right then, two fisherman were standing on the upper part of the cliff next to me and they looked at the lower portion where they would have to stand and laughed at each other. It was cold and the chances were they were going to get wet. Still, fish had to be caught so they hauled their gear down to the wet cliff’s edge and cast their lines. I waited for another set to come through to see what they would do, but only a couple of smaller waves hit the cliff and they dodged the spray with little effort and only a small amount of fear.
Then, I dashed off to meet my morning subject for coffee. Martina is a meditation specialist and as you would hope she has a tremendous sense of depth about her. Her business is helping people to go deeper in their meditation practice and I’m helping her with her website. She wanted a photograph of herself in the landscape with gold and purple colors only, so I asked her to wear the purple and I led her up the coast to a really mystical beach with long golden beaches and dramatic golden cliffs. I think that the same thing applies for photographing people as landscapes: the most important element is connection. Again, this is magically possible the first few times you meet someone and after you have known them for a long time. If you feel stuck in your photography I would challenge you to photograph someone entirely new to you and someone you have known very well for a long time. The high tide and the large swell made this epic spot that much more dramatic and though there wasn’t that much room on the beach to walk we got some great shots with amazing light.
After our shoot, I went back to the studio to edit some shots for her to review and then went to the brewery to photograph the new flier for Twisted Tasting 2018. This is an incredible event that my sister came up with where she invites all the breweries and her favorite food artists to come up with something really creative and unusual. Then they all show up in one carnival themed space for a night of eating drinking and carnivalesque fun. It’s a challenging event to organize, to say the least. I had some business to take care of, so I only had a few moments to get a photograph and I asked one of our brewers if he’d like to be in the photo. Although he initially declined when I explained that he would just be holding up the flier in front of his face he was game. He’s a photographer, too, and sometimes photographers can dislike each other by instinct. My uncle sometimes tells a joke about poets. How do you get a poet to hate you? You tell ‘em you’re a poet. Same thing with photographers. We either hate each other or get along beautifully. There’s almost always some element of comparison that goes into the mix whether it leads to inspiration or jealousy. I’m certainly not immune to this dynamic, so I almost always understand it. He was very cool about it, though, and chose the high road by being a team player. There are way more photographers than there are budgets for photography in this town, but I think that can and will change. Social media marketing is so important to business and there are so many small businesses that we can all find work if we get smart about it. I have tons to say about this subject, but I’ll return to it in a future blog.
The next part of my day was just a bunch of business, but by the time I’d finished my chores it was already time to go and shoot the sunset. We are in the last week of fall during the shortest days of the year and there’s not much time in between golden hours. I decided to head back up the coast for sunset because I had a really good feeling up there in the morning. I decided to go to Shark Fin Cove this time, even though I expected it to be crowded with photogs. I hadn’t got a truly great photograph of the cove yet and I figured this might be my time. I was surprised when I climbed down the path and out onto the beach that there weren’t any other photographers yet so I placed my tripod in the spot I like the best where you can see the channels of water on both sides of the shark fin. I turned around and there was another photographer already right behind me. He must’ve been just a few seconds later than I was. No bother, I though to myself and laughed about how I had made a satirical story about another photog poaching my shot just a week ago. Well, I’m getting my settings figured out and he plunks his tripod down right next to me, but I know that my angle is the one I like best. If I got a shot even three feet to the left where he is I wouldn’t like it, so I don’t care. The waves are huge and are crashing against the cliffs with great drama. My wide angle lens doesn’t do their violence justice. I turn to my comrade and he has a camera on the tripod, but he’s pulled out another camera with a bigger lens to shoot the waves. I felt a pang of jealousy, or gear envy, but I still knew that I was going to get the shot I wanted, so I chilled and just enjoyed the scene. It was still about twenty minutes till the sun set. Remember how I said earlier that there were two set waves every once in a while that would explode against the cliff in the morning? Well, the same was true in the evening. I saw it coming but you could hear it, too because water was being forced with extreme pressure through both channels and then shot right up the beach at us. No problem, I picked up my tripod and scooted ten feet or so back. As I was doing this, though, I witnessed something awful. My friend still had his big lens camera in hand, but he had put his camera bag on the beach and his other camera was still on the tripod. As the wave raced up the beach, I saw him freeze for a second in terror and then rush in a panic to get his camera bag which he retrieved just in time. Then we both looked at his other camera and watched in what felt like slow motion as it leaned forward and finally crashed lens first into the water.
“Oh man, oh no!” It was another photographer who was just arriving on the scene to witness the disaster. He was a hipster of small stature, but well groomed and with a very beautiful woman toting a film camera. The were both dressed in all black. I could tell that he wanted my spot. At a certain point he asked if he could stand in front of my setup to snap a few shots. Sure I said and I just photographed him trying to get the shot. I didn’t think you could get a very good photograph of the scene without a tripod to begin with and I knew I had plenty of time as the sun had set but the sky was slowly blooming with color. I could tell it was going to be one of those epic 20 minute after burns. He came back to me after snapping his shots and asked me what Sony I was using. I told him it was an A7ii and he flashed me a wolfish smile. How about you? A7R, he beamed back at me. I laughed inside at what assholes we are comparing gear. I really do not give a flying fuck what camera someone has, especially after I saw homeboy with the big lens lose his other camera to the waves. He was still on the beach morosely trying to clean his camera twisting the lens and grinding his teeth to the sound of the grit caught in the lens. By the time the bloom peaked I was very happy with my shots and trekked back up to my car to head home.