One of the things I love about photography is how seemingly small technical details can dramatically change the feel of an image. A few months ago, as I was taking sunset pictures at Newport Back Bay, I stayed until nearly the end of dusk, trying to capture the feel of the warmly-lit houses surrounding the cool bay. I ended up having to use exposures of more than a minute, eventually capturing the feel of the evening in this image:
While I’d always known that long shutter speeds allow you to blur motion, in that evening I discovered just how much they change the look of large bodies of water: the water changed from a choppy, dynamic fluid into a silky smooth, calm body 1.
I was hooked. I quickly added a 3-stop (8x) neutral density filter to my wishlist, and was lucky enough to get one as a present recently (thanks mom!). To experiment with using long shutter speeds and bodies of water, I headed to Little Corona Beach (Robert E Badham Marine Life Refuge) in Corona Del Mar three times over the last month.
With the sun still out, the neutral density filter stacked with my polarizer let me extend exposures to a few seconds, allowing me to capture the feel of the water crashing over the rocks, with waves diluted to mist in the air:
And water in the somewhat protected rocky areas smoothed out to be a shimmering, reflective surface:
But the real fun came after the sun went down, and I could use exposure times of a minute or longer while capturing the ethereal, post-sunset glow:
This past Monday I found myself in possession of a rare bit of spare time around sunset, so I zipped down to Little Corona Beach, which is just off Pacific Coast Highway in Corona Del Mar. My primary purpose for the trip was to try out my new three-stop neutral density filter, but I found a nice surprise at the entrance to the beach:
The agaves were absolutely gorgeous, especially since their quickly-growing inflorescences could be composed with classic California ocean scenes in the background.
These inflorescences won’t be around forever. Just like the Agave I photographed earlier this year (gallery 1, gallery 2), the inflorescence will grow to a certain height, burst into flower, and then die (and then likely get ripped out by the landscapers, which is what happened to the one at OCC). Also, agaves typically flower only once during their entire lives.
So, local photographers, this is your only chance to capture these agaves at their peak. I’m no botanist, but my guess is that they’ll quickly grow too tall for their tips to be included in a sea-scape composition without a ladder. I don’t know how long it will be until they flower, either, but my guess is we’ve got a few weeks (as I didn’t see any flower buds present yet).
If you do go and photograph them, I’ve got only two requests:
Respect the fence that protects the agaves and their surrounding vegetation. The bluffs are very delicate, and local groups have been working very hard to re-vegetate the area.
If you do get some good shots, I’d love it if you could share them with everyone by posting a comment here linking to them.
Newport Back Bay is a relatively unknown1 jewel of coastal Orange County. At only a few miles long and half a mile wide at most, this estuary is relatively small. It’s also packed in between Newport Beach mansions houses, some of which overlook the wetlands from bluffs that line it. However, there is no major development inside the majority of the back bay, which is home to plants, birds, kayakers, and lots of other wildlife.
Looking towards the eastern bluffs from a roadside stop on Back Bay Drive in Newport Back Bay.
I’ve loved going to Newport Back Bay for years. It’s a great place to bike or jog, as there’s a paved trail looping around it2, and it’s a good place to go for bird watching (though I think Bolsa Chica is generally preferred by bird photographers). What’s neat about this area is that one moment you’re driving through fully developed Newport Beach and Irvine (Fashion Island Shopping Center and UC Irvine are only minutes away), and then the next you’re walking, biking, or driving along a one-lane road that meanders along the side of a beautiful coastal wetlands.
A few nights ago I went there to watch the sunset and experiment with some post-sunset techniques. The sunset was gorgeous:
When I think of beach pictures on the west coast of the United States, I think sunsets. The glorious red sun falling beneath the ocean. The soft light on the sky. The ability to wake up at noon and still photograph it.
But recently I noticed that low tides were coinciding with early mornings, so I decided to head out for a morning trip to the beach on Friday. My primary goal was to scout out locations for future sunrise and intertidal photography, so I headed to both Crystal Cove State Park’s beach and Little Corona (both beaches are in Orange County; Little Corona is in Corona Del Mar, and Crystal Cove is just north of Laguna Beach). But I quickly got distracted from location hunting thanks to the beauty of the morning.
Morning Treasure: Sunrise at Crystal Cove
Both beaches have bluffs overlooking the ocean, meaning that the beach was shaded long after the sun rose in the region. This allowed for shots like the above, and also let me get pictures of a waterfall cascading down the bluffs long after sunrise: