Harbor Point Park

Harbor Point Park | Dana Point, California

Harbor Point Park | Dana Point, California

As I continue my journey to photograph California's 840 miles of coastline, I had the opportunity to spend some time at Harbor Point Park in Dana Point for the 2014 Worldwide Photowalk hosted by Scott Kelby.

In my usual fashion, I walked out to the point where the water breaks against the shore and set up my tripod for the long awaited sunset. I knew fully well before I started shooting that the shoes I was wearing would end up in the garbage by the end of the evening. Usually I wear flip flops to shoot seascapes but all the rocks and pebbles on the beach left me needing shoes that wouldn't slip.

There's nothing more amazing in my photographic adventures than being one with the ocean and being engulfed by it. We all take our coastal regions for granted but it has a very important story to tell. Our world wouldn't be what it is today of it weren't for the vast oceans that cover this Planet's surface.

I captured this photo using my Zeiss 21mm wide angle prime lens with my Canon 5d Mark III body. If I have the luxury to pack all the gear I want, I prefer to shoot with prime lenses over zooms. I really only bring out the zooms if space is an issue and I need to pack light. The sharpness and image quality you get with a prime lens is unmatched compared to the wide angle zooms. The sun wasn't quite low enough when I shot this, so I used my Lee .9 stop graduated neutral density filter to keep the sky from getting blown out. I didn't do anything particularly special in Photoshop while editing this. I did a little color correction in Lightroom and Nik Color Efex 4 as well as a bit of sharpening on the rocks in Topaz detail. That was it.

Guest Post: On the Importance of Commitment

Hello! Corey's wife here, just wanting to drop by and discuss the obvious requirement for anyone with any type of passion for photography: commitment.

Yes, I realize this is obvious, but I'm speaking from an outsider's perspective here. I've watched my boyfriend/turned fiancee/turned husband casually pick up a camera and start taking some pictures. They were pretty good- certainly solid efforts. But then he started taking more pictures, reading more books and web articles, spending a bit more money on equipment. He went from taking good pictures to taking really good pictures. I remember our first real vacation together to New York City, and I swear I started to get a little jealous of that sexy little Canon 40D. He seemed to enjoy carrying her around, where I hadn't had so much as a piggy back ride since the infancy of our relationship.

It hit a point where he started to doubt his ability, despite the reassurance of everyone around him. He was unsure of his next steps and didn't know if investing any more effort or money was something he could do with a clear conscience. (Protip: non-photography folk often have a mild heart attack when they intend to go and buy a lens for a birthday present."He let slip he wanted a Zeiss lens for his camera.. what a xperfect gift, I ran out of ideas! Let me just use Google and order it today.. *keyboard clicks**heart attack**stunned silence* Welp! How about a nice Fossil watch? He'd love that! Yeah... let's go with the watch...")

Thankfully, he made the decision to keep going with his craft. He's now gone to more places, gotten more exposure (pun alert), and taken more AMAZING pictures than I could have imagined. I'm not saying it's easy for him to manage everything, but the important part is that he makes the time. Because of that commitment, I have seen him grow and develop and flourish in ways I never thought possible. Not just as a photographer, but as a person.

Lately, we have implemented a routine to ensure he is able to stay commited. It took some work, I won't romanticize things. We have to communicate with each other, and trust that the communication is accurate. When I say "no, really, I'm ok with you heading out to the beach for a few hours tonight. I'll manage the kiddo", I have to mean it. If he says to me "Hey, I'm really stressed about the number of photos I have to process", I have to know that he's only saying that as a last resort and has tried his hardest to keep things from getting backlogged.

For anyone wondering just how much of a balancing act we perform at Chez Thompson, I'll clue you in: We have a spirited 2 year old who is Daddy's Number One Fan, a little guy on the way, and I'm always eager to talk his ear off after MY 40 hours in the office about all the new recipes I want to try, breweries I think we should visit, or a vacation spot that we have to go to. On top of this, he works over 40 hours a week, commutes 50 miles each way to work, likes to wrench on Mustangs with his brother, still manages to help with the housework, and is able to keep his wife madly in love with him. Add in an intense photography passion? You've got yourself a full calendar, and a very busy Corey Thompson.

Your situation probably isn't much different. You have other commitments. (Unless, of course, you're one of those people that don't have to play into the any one of the games of 'work', 'familial obligation' or'having to pay for things'. In which case, go away.) I've watched Corey agonize over his choice to invest so much of his passion in his photography- feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and good old fashioned 'not-enough-hours-in-the-day-syndrome'. But he's stuck to it and has captured some amazing pieces and dragged me along on some amazing adventures. I wouldn't have his journey any other way.

So I guess the Big, Fat, Moral Of The Story (something so important it deserves capitalization) is just to keep at it. Those around you will help you make it a priority if you explain to them how imporant it is. You'll stumble and get overwhelmed at times, but eventually you'll hit your stride and finally get the benefits. You will find an immense sense of pride and satisfaction (sometimes bordering on sublime transcendence, other times pure frustration) in what you've created. Don't be afraid to mark your calendar for processing days and shooting days; bring your camera everywhere you can, everyone else will get used to it; go a little nuts learning, and subsequently animatedly discussing, the latest LightRoom or Photoshop techniques.

Do it because you owe it to yourself. Do it because anyone around you that really cares WANTS to see that fire burning in your eyes. Do it to create something beautiful- both within yourself and within the frame of your lens.

Twilight Nights

Twilight Nights | Newport Beach, California

Twilight Nights | Newport Beach, California

Southern California isn't just another place to live, its a lifestyle. Bonfires on the beach, good music on the radio, roasting s'mores over the fire, and a few good friends, any time out of the year. That's what it's all about. Sure we get loads of traffic, smog like you wouldn't believe, over crowded neighborhoods, uber liberal politics, and morons who don't know how to drive in the rain. Until you've lived here though, visiting for a few days can only give a glimpse into what it's really all about. We have miles upon miles of publicly accessible beaches and some of the most stunning sunsets you'll see anywhere in the world.

It's nights like this one that remind me what I love so much about living by the coast. I grab my favorite shorts and flip flops, throw back the moon roof, and just cruise straight out to the beach. The evenings cool off nicely after a hot day and the water is just nice enough to stand in while watching the sky transition from day into night. These are twilight nights in Southern California. You can't get this anywhere else.

Night Bright

Night Bright | Palos Verdes, California

Night Bright | Palos Verdes, California

Up in the Hills of Palos Verde's is a nice little turn out at the top of a hill overlooking San Pedro and the Pacific coast. I've always heard there are nice views around this area and had been scouting for this type of vantage point in Los Angeles for awhile. I first stumbled upon this exact spot online from another photographer, but they gave no mention of the exact location. I scavenged just about every inch of road available on Google Earth and Street View on Google Maps until I finally found this exact place. I drove out one night after work and it was every bit amazing as I had anticipated. As the sun continued to set and the night sky fell upon me, the city lit up like a Night Brite.

Camera and Exposure Setup
Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8
Mode: Bulb
Aperture: f/13
Exposure Time: 60 seconds
ISO: 100
Tripod: Gitzo 3541
Head: Markins ball head with RRS quick release

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher | Ireland

Cliffs of Moher | Ireland

Several years ago I bought an airline ticket to Ireland on a whim, flew out there with no plans or reservations, and had the most incredible and spontaneous journey. I didn't pack much, just a couple changes of clothes, a GPS, and my camera. I didn't really know what I was doing or where I was going. I had a general direction I wanted to go in but I relied mostly on intuition and my GPS to get me around.

When my plane touched down in Dublin, it was about 8:30 a.m. local time and I was too excited to have gotten any reasonable amount of sleep on the flight. I gathered my belongings and hopped on the first bus to the rental car desk. I felt insanely nervous for even thinking about attempting to drive on the left side of the road, but it was something I needed to scratch off my bucket list. Besides, there was no turning back at that point.

The rental car company put me in a Hyundai Getz, a small piece of junk that was too slow to get out of its own way. I sat down inside of the car and took several minutes to get myself acquainted with the steering wheel being on the right wrong side of the car. I then set my GPS to guide me to a small town called Clifden, way out on the west coast of Ireland. I had embarked on a five and a half hour cross country journey while giving myself a crash course on driving on the left side of the road. And yes, I did get honked at quite a bit.

When I arrived in Clifden, I stopped in at a small B&B to see if they had any rooms available, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and crashed for the night. I was exhausted. When the morning came, I asked the lady who owned the house if she could recommend a place to stay somewhere near the Cliffs of Moher. She directed me to a B&B in a small town called Doolin, quite literally down the street from the Cliffs of Moher. I was so unbelievably stoked when I saw how close by I was. As soon as I arrived in Doolin, I checked into my B&B and then immediately headed out to explore the Cliffs of Moher.

If you stick to the designated tourist area, it'll be an amazing experience. I'm all about going off the beaten path though. It wasn't long before I found a gate blocking a trail with a sign saying not enter in many different languages. If you're up for doing a little exploring, the dirt trails running along the cliffs on the opposite side of the fence will give you a mind blowing experience. There's something very liberating about standing at the top of the 700 foot high cliffs, over looking the ocean below you, without any distractions or noise pollution for miles. There aren't many opportunities left in the world where you can simply sit and enjoy the sounds of the silence among you.

California Sun

California Sun | Seal Beach, Ca.

California Sun | Seal Beach, Ca.

I love hanging out at Seal Beach. It's a quiet little beach town just north of Huntington Beach, aka Surf City. Just north of Seal Beach is the Long Beach harbor. On a crystal clear day you can see the Queen Mary from the pier. Seal Beach has managed to preserve a lot of their history over the years, which I have a tremendous amount of respect for. It's one of the rare few beach towns in Southern California that has not been overrun by land developers.

I have many fond memories of growing up around this town. My father and I used to get breakfast at the Ruby's on the end of the pier, which sadly is now closed. Seal Beach is where I started learning how to surf. The conditions at this beach are pretty mild and the crowd is very chill, a perfect combination for anyone looking to learn how to surf or even body board.

I was almost about to pass going to Seal Beach on the evening I shot this photograph. I was just getting off work on a Friday night after working late from a production release. The sky was gray and boring and there were no clouds anywhere. I thought for sure it would be a waste of time to even stop. When I finally arrived at Seal Beach, the sun was just starting to tuck back beyond the horizon and I was greeted by a surprise burst of colors over Long Beach. I sat there in my jeans on the wet sand watching the sunset, camera mounted on my tripod before me, not worrying about a single thing in the world.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge | San Francisco, California

Golden Gate Bridge | San Francisco, California

It was a warm afternoon when I was laying out on the deck of my suite at the Hilton. I was staring out at the Golden Gate Bridge and plotting various points on The Photographer's Ephemeris to figure out where I wanted to photograph the bridge from during sunset. I couldn't decide if I wanted to go to Marshall's Beach, Kirby Cove, Hawk Hill, Slacker Hill, or Battery Spencer. I only had two nights in San Francisco and one night was already designated for shooting the sunset from Treasure Island. I really do envy those that can visit any of these locations whenever they want. I officially decided that Marshall's beach it would be. I could capture the Golden Gate Bridge, which was what I really wanted, and infuse that with my traditional seascape photography. Everything I read indicated that it was such a fantastic location to shoot from, so I headed out by foot to make my way to Marshall's Beach.

There was only one problem though. Despite how the weather report told me there would be no fog, I kid you not the Golden Gate Bridge was completely engulfed in it by the time I got there. If I didn't already know where I was, I'd have sworn to you that there was no such bridge around. Marshall's Beach ended up being a total bust due to the fog. Thankfully I had backup locations plotted out. After an interesting adventure in failing to figure out how to take the bus across the Golden Gate Bridge, I finally arrived at Slacker Hill by cab. To add to my losing streak, the fog was too low to shoot from Slacker Hill and Hawk Hill both. The bridge simply could not be seen, so I set off on foot once again to find another spot. By the time I was done exploring Kirby Cove, the fog had started to disappear, at which point I made my way up to Battery Spencer to freeze my butt off in the cold wind with no jacket.

It all paid off nicely. By the time I got to the top of Battery Spencer, the fog was pretty much gone and the sky was starting to look amazing. Feeling quite relieved, I fired off a series of shots and captured the beautiful panorama I had flown all the way up to San Francisco for.

Sail Away

Sail Away | San Diego, California

Sail Away | San Diego, California

I love big metropolitan cities. There's always so much going on that the clock never seems to stop. If I blink, I might miss something. I don't have time to be tired, there's too much exploring to do, too much culture to immerse myself in, and too many local craft brews to try, especially in San Diego. The thing I love most though is being able to go until my heart's content, then hop on a bridge across town and watch it all from a distance. It's sort of like pausing to catch your breath before you jump back in and keep going.

I've been wanting to capture Downtown San Diego in all its beauty for awhile now. I was able to take advantage of a great opportunity to do so while visiting last month with my wife and daughter. The sunset on the evening of this photograph was phenomenal, especially considering I was in California, in June. The sunsets throughout the summer months here in Southern California are always rather boring. My mind was officially blown. To help matters even more, we had met up with some local friends beforehand and were given a very helpful tip about trying the vantage point from a small park on Coronado Island instead of Harbor Island Park, which paid off very well.

My intentions originally were to publish a 5 shot panorama from my Canon 50mm lens. While reviewing my photos in Lightroom though, I couldn't help but notice a massive difference in image quality between the shots I took with my 50mm prime and those taken with my Zeiss 21mm prime. The sharpness and vibrancy that my Zeiss lens captures is unparalleled when put up against the Canon nifty fifty. The difference is so huge that I'm seriously considering replacing all of my Canon glass with Zeiss glass. Help, somebody pinch me. I think I'm dreaming and I can't wake up.

Travel Tips for Photographers

Getting out and exploring largely defines who I am and what I do. If I stopped doing that completely, I would probably go stir crazy and drive everyone at home insane. When I was a kid and gas was under a buck, I would often find roads to drive down and take it as far as I could until I couldn't go any further, just to see where it would take me. Mind you I could've just read a paper map (there was no Google street view in 1996) but where's the fun in that? Whether it be close to home or half way around the globe, the prospect of getting lost in unfamiliar territory and discovering something new gets me excited to think about.

I've learned a lot over the years through my adventures in traveling. I've learned how to avoid paying full retail price for most travel expenses and have developed a solid system that works for me when I'm preparing to hit the road.

I decided to put together a not-so-short write-up on what I've learned through my experiences traveling as a photographer. In no particular order, here are some of my most useful tips that I felt could be of benefit.

1) Be flexible with your dates. The cost of airfare fluctuates from day to day. I'm able to find the best deals on airfare through Airfare Watchdog by setting up alerts to scan all of the travel sites that then notify me instantly when a deal is found. By being flexible with my dates, I'm able to purchase airfare for dates when it's cheaper to fly. I managed to fly from Los Angeles to London on British Airways for $425 round trip.

London Eye | London, United Kingdom

London Eye | London, United Kingdom

2) Hotel Rewards cards can be very rewarding. I charge all of my gas and food, as well as other miscellaneous expenses, on my American Express Starwood Rewards card and pay it off each month. By doing this, I was able to accumulate enough points to book a five night stay at the Westin in Downtown Seattle.

Pike Place Market | Seattle, Washington

Pike Place Market | Seattle, Washington

3) Incorporate flexibility in your plan. Doing a little bit of pre-planning will help the whole trip flow more smoothly. Take some time to research what you'd like to do when you arrive at your destination. If you're not sure how reliable internet connectivity will be where you're traveling to, jot down the phone numbers and addresses of some of they key destinations you're wanting to hit up. By knowing in advance what you'd like to accomplish, it saves you from having to sit down and waste time during your trip to figure out what to do or where to go. Just keep in mind that plans rarely go exactly as planned. If things start to deviate, just go with the flow and enjoy your vacation.

4) Don't be afraid to try public transportation. Figuring out transportation can be an overwhelming task when traveling to a big city. Thankfully apps like Hopstop and Google Maps make it incredibly easy to find your way around.

Transit directions on Google Maps is the option I'd recommend if it's available for the city you're traveling to, and is available on Android phones and iPhones. Hop Stop has more coverage when it comes to needing public transit directions, however, Apple recently purchased Hop Stop and made the app exclusive to the iPhone. The good thing though, is that you can still get directions from Hop Stop through through a web browser on any PC or mobile device. Try both options and see how you like them.

Fulton Landing | Manhattan, New York

Fulton Landing | Manhattan, New York

5) Use crowd sourced photo pools for inspiration. If you're not familiar with the travel photographer Trey Ratcliff and his Stuck in Customs photo blog, he built an awesome app called Stuck on Earth. It's a crowd sourced app that's designed to help you discover places to photograph. It's now available for Android and Apple devices and doesn't cost a cent. Within the app, you can search any location on earth and see endless amounts of geo-tagged photos that were captured wherever it is you're interested in traveling to. It's the perfect companion for doing pre-travel planning so you can find all the cool local spots to photograph from that tourists don't typically know about. Once you know where you want to go shooting, use Hop Stop or Google Maps to figure out how to get there.

6) Know where the sun will be setting. If you love sunset photography, it's important to make sure you're in the right spot at the right time. The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very handy program that is available for the PC, or as an app for Android and Apple devices. It serves as a sun and moon calculator that uses maps to tell you the exact position of the sun and moon at any time throughout the day. If you're not really familiar with the direction the sun rises or sets in where you're traveling to, you need this app.

There are many times in which I've headed out to the beach for a sunset photoshoot only to find that I'm facing south staring at a pale blue sky while the sun is setting off towards the west. Talk about frustrating. If you're considering several locations to shoot the sunset from, this tool can be used for researching beforehand where the sun will be setting. This way you don't waste time traveling to a location that won't even have a view of all the beautiful colors. If you're a sunrise photographer, the app works just the same.

7) Be courteous to your non-photographer travel companions. If you're not traveling alone, chances are the rest of your party will get quite bored watching you shoot photos. What? How could this be?!?! I know, I know, hard to be believe. Trust me on this though, I speak from experience.

If you find yourself at a particularly interesting destination, perhaps at the top of Notre Dame de Paris with a sweeping 360 degree view of the city, take some time to enjoy the moment with your travel companion before you lift the camera to your face and start shooting (tip from wife: otherwise they will get pissed).

If possible, try to plan some time where you can head out alone for a couple hours while the rest of your party engages in more entertaining activities. Or better yet, check to see if there are other activities your party can engage in at the location you're photographing.

Sacré Cœur | Paris, France

Sacré Cœur | Paris, France

8) Pack snacks for extended outings. If you can spare the room in your bag, load up on a few snacks to keep you fueled up while you're out on your feet. When you're out shooting photos it's really easy to lose track of the time. You'll be able to focus better on your photography if your stomach isn't screaming at you for food. If you can't spare the room in your bag, consider wearing clothing with extra pockets. I almost always wear cargo shorts when I'm out shooting because I like having the extra storage space to store snacks and camera gear.

9) Talk to the locals. There's no one that knows a town better than the locals that live there, so talk to them. Where ever you are, strike up a friendly conversation. You'd be amazed at how much people are willing help.

When I arrived on Yerba Buena island in San Francisco, a lady on the bus offered to show me different vantage points around the island to help me find that perfect spot I was looking for. Again when i was in San Diego, I was dead set on shooting the cityscape from Harbor Island until a local suggested that I'd have an even better view from Coronado island.

Golden Coast | San Francisco, California

Golden Coast | San Francisco, California

10) Visit the local farmer's market. Eating healthy is always a good idea, and can also be very difficult to do so when on vacation. Plus, there is never a shortage of incredible photo opportunities at the local markets.

Bonus Tip: Put on your favorite pair of walking shoes, get out of the hotel room, and explore. Some of the most amazing photo opportunities you'll encounter will be from getting out and exploring. Walk down a street you never would have considered walking down. Go discover things you never knew existed, and photograph them. I found one of the most stunning views I'd ever seen of the Transamerica building in San Francisco because I was lost and went down the wrong street.

Always use caution when traveling to areas you're unfamiliar with. Although it can be challenging to do so with a camera, do your best to try and blend in. Don't act or dress in a way that will draw attention to yourself. The only one who doesn't know you're not a local is you. If you're feeling uncomfortable about being in a certain area then follow your gut. If you don't feel safe, it's probably best to move on as quickly and inconspicuously as possible. Talking to locals is also a great way to learn about which neighborhoods you should stay away from. The most important thing to remember is to be safe.

Cress Street

Cress Street | Laguna Beach, California

Cress Street | Laguna Beach, California

It was a little nerve racking capturing this photograph at Laguna Beach last week. I was standing at the edge of total of disaster, hoping a wave wouldn't take my camera out. The sun was setting fast, it was high tide, and the waves were slamming into the rocks like I've never seen before. I was using my Zeiss 21mm lens, so I didn't have the advantage of standing further back and zooming in. I took a gamble and planted my tripod into the sand. As soon i popped the lens cap off, my lens started getting misted before I could even snap my first shot. I was quite literally cleaning my lens between shots to avoid water spots appearing in the photo.

I took a slight departure from how I typically photograph seascapes and used a faster shutter speed to freeze the intensity of the waves crashing before me. I really wanted to portray how man with all of his strength and wisdom, still does not have the power to overcome the forces of nature. As the sun continued setting beyond the horizon, the waves came to a calm and I just stood there enjoying yet another beautiful sunset.

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