Back to the Grind
Confronting barriers callouses the mind and makes it more resilient and more well-rounded. A coddled mind surrounded by safe space barriers is a weak mind – a mind that is just running through the motions like a broken automaton. A well-rounded, calloused mind is grown and strengthened much like an immune system. Going outside of one's comfort zone trains the mind and allows it to be more innovative in subjects that it is already familiar with.
I have been out of the game for quite a while. Finally getting out of the house led me to plunge straight into an unfamiliar situation for shooting: a fire in Berkeley. Shooting something unfamiliar allowed me to get experience that would help my normal landscape and wildlife photography. Shooting at night makes you play with shadows and bright spots of light. A lot of the scene is black and things must be framed interestingly to avoid detracting from the image.
Photographing the firefighters in Berkeley doing what they do best helped me get some of my game back – and then some. After being gone for so long it was a challenge but I really find that the plunge into a type of photography I am not well-versed in prepared me for the trips I was to take up the north coast of California and down to Big Sur. On these trips I found my self more aware of the contrast of my images, the framing, and overall direction of the images. I normally do not experience this in my everyday photography which is primarily simple profiles of wildlife – namely birds. This plunge into an unfamiliar scenario brought clear changes to my photographs of the California coast just a week later. I still missed many potential shots due to my slow-focusing lenses but many of the shots that I did manage to take far exceeded much of my previous work (in my opinion). It was nice to finally get out and shoot again and I hope to never slow down again and stop. This post is to tell the story of the aforementioned road trip and to show how putting yourself into uncomfortable situations can drastically improve your abilities not only in photography but also in life – I hope you enjoy the stories I have to tell.
The first destination on the two day journey with my brother was the north coast of California. Crisp air. I had missed California's winters. Stepping out of a warm car or a warm sleeping bag and feeling the cold air bite at your cheeks is – to me – arguably one of the most reinvigorating and rejuvenating feelings there are in this world. The long drive started in the Bay Area where we began our journey heading up through wine country to Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve (Pic. 1). Upon reaching the reserve, the temperature was a brisk 25° Fahrenheit. Frost coated every surface – from the smallest pebble to the biggest boulder. We wandered for a while through the gargantuan redwoods and stared in awe at this hidden gem of a park. Few people visited simply because it was a state reserve rather than a state park. However, the groves of old-growth trees in this natural reserve put the twig-sized redwoods of many state parks to shame. As we reached the end of the circular trail around the virgin groves, the air began to warm so we began the long drive to the coast. We drove directly west and when we hit the coastline we stopped at beaches along the way down south. The most prominent beach stop was Schooner Gulch State Beach. Receding tides and trickling streams emptying into the sea left dramatic and beautiful fractal patterns in the sand (Pic. 2). The patterns in the sand were remarkably similar to the branching of veins and arteries and the branching of lateral meristems on a tree. The mathematical characteristics of nature and the similarity between the abiotic and biotic was striking and in a way very humbling. As we continued down the coast in a panic to find a nice place to watch the sunset we found ourselves at Salt Point State Park (Pic. 3). The landscape of the park was simultaneously rugged and tame in that the tops of the plateaus were smooth and gently sloped while the cliffs were intimidating, sheer drops straight into the tempestuous Pacific Ocean. As the sun dropped below the horizon the sky turned a beautiful and vivid winter orange and dimly illuminated the landscapes which lay to the east. It quickly became dark and we scrambled in the dim twilight up the rocky hill back to the car. The day came to a close as we drove back home to the Bay Area to prepare for a new trip the following day –
The next day we left in the early afternoon to drive down south to Garrapata State Park and enjoy the afternoon hours and sunset. Not much can be said about this trip as the weather was warm, the skies were flat white with clouds, and the roads were straight and boring. However, once we arrived at the park, we were captivated by the beauty of the coastline. Large rock outcrops and arches protruded from the ocean like ancient Grecian columns. Upon arriving at the park I was first taken away by the power of the sea. Aggressive waves crashed with such power against the cliffs that rumbling could be felt in the ground like titans being awakened (Pic. 4). After spending time trying to photograph the anger of the sea, I spotted in the distance a bird. When I looked closer, it was a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), a species I had never seen in real life before. She sat quietly and observed us, already getting tense at our presence from scores of meters away. My only choice to get a closer look was to head downhill out of her sight and army crawl back up through the sandstone rubble to get close enough for a shot. Within the first two exposures, she had flown away (Pic. 5). Following this encounter, I headed over to the outcrops jutting out of the sea and took advantage of the dimly lit sky to take some long exposure images of the sea (Pic. 6 and 7). It is quite remarkable to see such a violent and tumultuous sea turn so calm through a long exposure – something so powerful and intimidating turned smooth and docile. At the end of the shoot at the park, we drove back north towards the Bay Area to finish off the last day of the road trip – a road trip I deemed quite productive and beautiful.
A few weeks have passed since that road trip with my brother and I still find myself appreciating the practice I obtained through photographing the firefighters in Berkeley. I recently drove down to San Ramon to drop off an early Christmas gift for my best friend who had recently been feeling down and I figured I should take advantage of the fresh rain which had turned the hills a bright green (Pic. 8). I have posted before about what a wonderful wildlife haven San Ramon is, but every time I visit I am dumbfounded by the sheer number of birds of prey. During my visit I spotted around eight different American kestrels, two golden eagles, two red-tailed hawks, a few vultures, a northern harrier, and a white-tailed kite – all around the small ranch reserve. The experience at the fire in Berkeley has left me with an appreciation for framing images in a more interesting way rather than just trying to get as close as possible to wildlife to get close-cropped images. Shots such as Pic. 9 and Pic. 10 show how I utilized what the fire taught me as the framing and depth-of-field of these images have made them drastically more pleasing to the eye than if they had just been side profiles of the birds. While I am sad that people had the misfortune to lose their apartments and possessions to that fire, I am grateful for the experience the fire gave me as I have finally begun to appreciate what a difference it makes when the entire image is interesting rather than just the subject. As for my friend who was feeling down – hope you feel better Rona. You're awesome and inspire me to take photos like these.