Table Rock Beach

Table Rock Beach | Laguna Beach, CA

Table Rock Beach | Laguna Beach, CA

There have been a lot of changes going on with my normal routine lately. Since purchasing a house and moving out of a tiny apartment, I'm now living 45 minutes from the beach instead of 25 minutes. Regardless though, a little extra distance isn't enough to keep me away from something I love so much. California's coast is undoubtedly some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and I'm on a mission to photography it all, from San Diego on the south end to to Pelican State Beach below the Oregon border.

Before moving further from the beach, I crammed as many seascape sessions as I could onto my calendar because I knew it would take some time to get settled into the new place and my opportunities to get out to the beach would be inconvenient until my life settles back into what you could call a normal state.  On this evening I continued my trek into south Laguna to a little place called Table Rock Beach.  Some photographers guard their photo locations like it's the holy grail, which I think is freakin' absurd. I could care less about my secret spots getting "exposed".  This beach is located off of Table Rock Drive and Pacific Coast Highway. You won't find it on the map when searching for Table Rock Beach, but I assure you it's there and there are signs at its entrance to let you know you're in the right place. Don't bother trying to park on Table Rock Drive. You'll need to park on Coast Highway and walk.  Like many beaches throughout Laguna, there are a lot of steps you need to go down (and unfortunately back up) to get to it. Be sure you're in good shape before going because your legs are going to thank you for this, and by thank I mean scream what the heck were you thinking, by the time you get back up to your car. 

Surprisingly, this is the first shot I fired off that evening. After I loaded my photos from this session into lightroom, I briefly glanced at the others and rejected the whole rest of the set. This was supposed to be my initial test shot to see what settings I wanted to use and I nailed it on the first try. All I did was I mounted my reverse graduated neutral density filter onto my lens, set my aperture to f18 to capture the sun star, and fired off a shot at 1/60th of a second. Later that evening the cloud formations mostly disappeared making the available light and the sky look rather dull. Photography is so much about being in the right place at the right time that it makes the camera gear secondary. You can have the most expensive gear money can buy but if you don't put yourself in front of beautiful scenery, you're still going to capture dull photographs.

Laguna Swells

Laguna Beach, California

Shaw's Cove, Laguna Beach, California

The swells were unreal last night at Laguna.  I've never seen anything like it this far south in O.C.  We're talking 10 feet plus swells slamming the shore line with brute force. I was over at Cress Street checking out all the action.  For those that have never been to Cress Street beach, it's a tiny cove with lots of rocks. There's a small cliff to the right that you can climb up which waves slam into.  It's a fun spot to watch the surf from if you don't mind getting soaked. When it's high tide, like it was last night, stepping foot onto the beach can be dangerous from all the rocks that are hidden beneath the water.  I was able to time the sets and climb up onto the cliff when the water retreated a bit.  My camera spent most of the time being held high above my head to keep it dry, but I did manage to snap a couple shots of these swells when I could. I walked away soaked with some awesome big wave shots and it was totally worth it.  I'd say this round was a tie.  Me: 1, Ocean: 1

Camera Technique
Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: 70-200mm f/4L
Focal Length: 163mm
Shutter Speed: 1/200
Aperture: f/8
ISO: 800

Fire Sky

Fire Sky | Monterey Park, California

Fire Sky | Monterey Park, California

The sky looked like it was on fire one night after work while walking to my car. My team and I had just wrapped up a deployment we were working on and I was planning on hitting up DTLA to shoot some cityscapes. I was floored by how cool the sky looked. Thankfully I already had my camera on me. People love Southern California for its perfect weather all year round. Our weather is a little too perfect though. We never get a real autumn with leaves that turn colors or cloudy sunsets with vibrant colors swirling throughout the sky. We do get some cloudy sunsets but it doesn't happen a lot. I always have to have my camera with me for that one chance we might get a really sweet sunset. When we do get one, they are absolutely stunning.

Camera Technique:
The sky had taken me completely off guard when I was leaving. I had my camera on me but my tripod was still in the trunk of my car. With the sky literally changing every second, there was no time to grab my tripod. I had to think on the fly and try various options. I used my 70-200mm lens at 70mm as opposed to a wide angle lens to narrow the viewer's focus and eliminate distracting elements that a wide angle lens would've introduced. Since I had no tripod, I tried a big aperture (small F stop) to let more light in combined with a fast shutter speed to reduce camera shake from hand holding the camera. This setup's problem was that the big aperture combined with a telephoto lens gave me a very small depth of field and threw the trees out of focus.

My other option to get everything in focus was to use a small aperture (big F stop) with a fast shutter speed. To avoid underexposure with my new settings, I cranked the ISO up to 1000 to increase the camera's sensitivity to light as much as possible while still maintaining good image quality with little to no grain. A good rule of thumb when hand holding a camera is to use a shutter speed that is no slower than the focal length you are using. Since I was shooting at 70mm, I should have used 1/70th of a second or faster for my shutter speed but I was able to tuck my arms into my sides and hold the camera steady enough to still get a sharp shot at 1/40th of a second. The final result is this hand held image shot at 1/40th of a second at f/14 with ISO 1000.

Ordering Replacement Parts for your Gitzo Tripod

Theres no doubt amongst photographers that Gitzo makes some of the best tripods known to man.  Their product support however, has left a rather sour taste in my mouth that leaves me questioning if my next tripod will be a Gitzo.  Really Right Stuff has emerged as a worthy contender among tripod makers, but for the price of entry, I'm not convinced their tripods are built better.  Is RRS worth paying a higher premium for?  Is their product support better?  I couldn't even find a product support section on the RRS website for ordering replacement parts. 

If you're like me and you use your tripod in conditions that expose it to a lot of dust, dirt, or sand, then you're likely cleaning your tripod frequently.  I always break down my tripod completely after every seascape shoot to scrub off the sand and salt water and to re-grease everything.  It's a pain in the butt process but salt water and sand will destroy your gear in a hurry.

Over time though, parts will inevitably break. The funny thing is, ordering a new gitzo tripod to replace your broken one couldn't be easier. If you have to order replacement parts on the other hand, well, I wish you luck. It's a painful process that'll make you want to cry.

You will first need to go to this page here Gitzo Spare Parts. When you land on the spare parts page you'll notice the instructions say:

Checking the availability and descriptions of every Gitzo spare part could not be easier.

Simply search by product code or find your product using the numerical listing by product code.

In actuality, all you can do is search for your product, there is no numerical listing. Since I have a Gitzo 3541LS tripod, I would search for 3541. Now here is where it gets fun. You then have to download a PDF document that illustrates a breakdown of every part your tripod is made of. Take a good guess at what you think the correct part number should be and then use the contact us form to email their support department. They will email you back an MS Word document order form that you have to fill out with the part number you need, the quantity, and your credit card number. 

You should have zero expectation of your part being in stock. If it's out of stock, you should also have zero expectation that their staff can tell you when the part will be re-stocked.  At this point all you can do is hope for the best. If you're a professional who relies on your tripod for paying assignments, there's a good chance you'll just have to purchase a new tripod or wait it out.  I'm not joking.
I'm not too certain how such a leading name in the photography industry can find it acceptable to offer this level of support.  Their ordering process is an experience that takes me straight back to the 1990's.  I can only hope someone from Gitzo happens to stumble upon this post and do something about it. 

In Part 2 of this series I will illustrate how to tear down and rebuild your Gitzo tripod for cleaning purposes. Stay Tuned!

Urban Light

The LACMA | Los Angeles, California

The LACMA | Los Angeles, California

The first time I drove past the L.A. County Museum of Art, I couldn't figure out what the big deal was with all the light poles. There were tons of people wandering up and down all the aisles of lights like it was some sort of religious experience. It wasn't until I got out of my car and walked up to all the lights that I realized how cool it actually was. After I got home that evening I found out the display is called Urban Light and was designed by the sculpture Chris Burden and is made up of 202 restored street lights that once lit up the streets of Southern California.

I had a good concept in mind for how I wanted to photograph this but I got yelled at by security for attempting to mount my camera onto my tripod. After that happened I knew it would be a challenge to capture the beauty of this display in a way that would do it justice. The architect put a lot of attention to detail into their work here and I wanted to be sure to bring notice to all the intricate details in my photograph. I basically just walked into the middle of it all, pushed all my gear aside, and laid down on my back to think. And that's when i realized it. Sometimes a change in perspective is all we need to discover a fresh idea.

Underground Girl

Underground Girl | Hollywood, California

Underground Girl | Hollywood, California

I love Los Angeles and yet it frustrates me all the same. We're talking an area with such a vast expanse that makes commuting a royal pain. Our roads and freeways were not designed for the volume of people that move through them every day. It really doesn't matter what time of day or what day of the week you need to get into or out of Los Angeles, you can pretty much always expect to hit tons of traffic. It's just a way of life that we all deal with and have grown to accept. We don't know any different.

Los Angeles is WAY behind the times when it comes to public transportation. Thankfully, commuting into the area and getting around is becoming a lot easier. Rail services like the Metrolink can be relied on when it's not broken down or delayed a half hour due to mechanical issues to shuttle you into L.A. from surrounding areas.

The Hollywood and Highland Metro Station was designed by the sculptor Sheila Klein, who named this station's architecture, Underground Girl. This station is one of many subway stops that the Red Line connects you to from Union Station in Downtown L.A. The cool thing is if you're a monthly Metrolink rider, your Metro connections come at no extra cost. Just be sure not to setup any tripods in the metro station or you'll get yelled at and asked to leave by security. Ask me how I know.

Agate Street Beach

Agate Street Beach | Laguna Beach, Ca

Agate Street Beach | Laguna Beach, Ca

I love the excitement of getting off work and seeing a beautiful sunset start to form with the most perfect looking clouds covering the sky. I work in Los Angeles, quite a ways inland, so getting out to the beach on a week night is a real treat for me during the winter months when the sun sets early in the evening. On this night last month I was fortunate to be able to work remotely closer to the coast and I was able to get all my work done on time. It felt like I hit the jack pot. The sunset was scheduled to happen around 5:15 and it was already about 4:15. I quickly grabbed all my gear and raced out to Agate Street Beach in downtown Laguna Beach.

Agate Street is a really chill little beach right off of Agate Street and Pacific Coast Highway. I know, real hard to find huh? There's a stair case at the top of the cliff that takes you down to the quiet little beach. As you approach the staircase there are usually a handful of locals sitting on the benches at the top of the cliff, enjoying the sunset. I love shooting at Agate Street a lot. There are so many rock formations emerging from the sand that make for very interesting compositions. Every time I come here, I go home with photographs that are completely different from the last time.

The Setup:
Tripod: Gitzo 3541 Tripod with RRS Quick Release and L Bracket
Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Zeiss 21mm Distigon T*
Filters: Lee .9 stop GND stacked with a Singh-Ray .9 stop Reverse GND to keep the sun from blowing out the sky
Exposure: 1.6 seconds @ f/13

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.

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