12 Days in California: Days 1-4

Just finished a workshop on Location Lighting with Joe McNally at the Lepp Institute in Los Osos CA. What a week! My plan was to fly into SFO and spend a few days in Marin County (one of my favorite areas) then take the scenic route down CA1 to Los Osos which is a small town near Morro Bay (north of Santa Barbara). I found that most people in CA never heard of Los Osos either. Many thanks to Rex Naden, a workshop leader who graciously provided some ideas along the coast for shooting. So my week started with a long flight from JAX and two nights at the Best Western in Corte Madera. Hotel rooms are pricey in SF. This was a good location close to Pt Reyes National Seashore which was my first destination. Being on Pacific time you would think I would have a chance at catching some nice foggy sunrises on the west coast. Well...it seems that my adjustment came all too soon and I was typically missing the sunrise at 7:00. The drive to Pt Reyes first took me through Samuel P Taylor State Park which had some very nice redwoods, pines, and oaks. It was a lovely drive along Sir Frances Drake Boulevard (not!)...unknowingly to me this road is notorious for bad morning traffic and I caught the worst of it. Next time I will take the 101 up to Novato and then west to the coast.

 I reached the Bear Valley Visitor Center at Pt Reyes around noon. The sun was screaming above in the cloudless sky and it was just one of those days where you resolve to enjoy the view and not worry about perfect lighting. On the way to the coast I passed an interesting entrance to the historic RCA/Marconi wireless receiving station. A cypress lined "tree tunnel" surrounds the road that leads to the station. An impressive entrance. I was able to get to South Beach and the Lighthouse before the sun started going down at 5:00. From the lighthouse, I caught the sunset over the South Beach and as I drove home I could see the purple sky through the rear view mirror. I met Brenda Tharp and Jed Manwaring for dinner in Novato. Finally got to meet their dog Mocha! Overall a nice day for photography.


 Sam Taylor and Pt. Reyes gallery.

The next morning's plan was to wake up early for some nice fog in the Presidio. Could I make it across the Golden Gate by 7:00 AM? Fat chance...good thing about the Best Western Corte Madera is that they bring your continental breakfast to your room. Mine arrived at 6:30 but by the time I got everything packed in the car I was looking at 7:45. As I was driving over the bay the sun was up and bathing the bridge in golden light. I had to stop! Off the first exit there is a parking area on the right so I found a spot (not too hard on a Saturday morning), grabbed the camera and tripod and climbed up one of the concrete embankments. Another photographer was already there, probably snickering that I was arriving about an hour too late. So I sacrificed what was left of the fog for some bridgework. I can't say that it was worth it but I can't resist this bridge. I did not know about the access from the south (San Francisco) end. Only bikes are permitted to cross...no pedestrians. There is a lot of construction going on with chain link fences everywhere around the base. After about an hour here I decided to head to the Presidio, now that the sun was in full force.

I drove along Lincoln Blvd and then randomly looking for the main visitor center so I could get a map. This is a big place. Tons of joggers and cyclists on this Saturday morning. I ended up at Inspiration Point, from there I followed a map to the Officer's Club/Visitor Center. I asked the young lady there where the cedar groves were, she gave me this funny look and said she had no idea...just walk around. Geesh, every minute the sun was climbing higher and you know what that means. Back in the car I drove through the National Cemetery which was a very moving place. I was a bit self conscious photographing in there so I shot from the car.

Back onto Lincoln I spot a grove of trees near Park Ave. I pull into the parking area for Maintenance Building 682. The sun was coming up over the trees and the light was spilling through the grove. As I grabbed the camera and tripod I could see that some of the cyclists were stopping to take a picture...it was really a surreal effect with the sun going through the haze around the trees. I was so excited!


After my appointment with the trees I drove to Crissy Field, parked, and walked towards the bridge. The wind had picked up and there was a rest station appropriately named the "Warming Hut." Then back on Lincoln to Baker Beach where there is another good angle to shoot the bridge. By this time it is high noon and I continued on to an area called Land's End, grabbed a sandwich, and then found Hiway 1 and started driving south towards Monterey.

The Presidio gallery.

The next stop was at the Pigeon Pt lighthouse. I always find lighthouses very interesting both physically and metaphorically. Usually built on a small spit of rock, typically where the weather is brutal, just to house a bright beacon to keep ships safe. The stories surrounding each structure and the lighthouse keepers is always fascinating.  Onwards to catch the sunset in Santa Cruz. Isn't it crazy to be driving with your camera knowing that the sun is setting and you don't have a place to go. Luckily I found a park with beach access just in time. As the sun settled onto the water the camera was in place.


I did make it to Monterey, another Best Western. This one was $69 per night, includes fridge and microwave and free breakfast. You can't beat that! Today's goal is to make it from here to Los Osos on Hiway 1. First stop, Point Lobos State Reserve. My intention to rise early seems always to be...well a good intention. Never works out. I was in the park by 8:30 AM, the sun was going to be very strong but a front was moving in. As I parked my car at the first trailhead there was a volunteer and a park ranger talking, so I started asking questions and before you know it another 45 minutes passed. Believe me what they say is true, don't try to do landscape photography in direct sun. As good as you "think" your image looks in the viewfinder and on that tiny LCD, the contrast is way too high. It was good practice, and the views along the coast were incredible. Point Lobos is a fairly large park with many trails along the coast. I was lucky in that the park was relatively empty. As the afternoon wore on the clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and temperature dropped.


From Pt Lobos it was on to Big Sur and the classic California coastline. Driving on Hiway 1 is a real experience. I pulled off the road at a turnout to watch the sunset, and when I lost all the light, I had 50 miles to go on the twisty roads to Los Osos. Yikes!


Pt. Lobos gallery.