Asilomar

I know I talk all the time about how lucky I am to live where I do. I feel like a broken record when I say things like “as far as coastal photography it doesn’t get much better than Big Sur.” But it’s true and until someone yells at me, I’m probably going to keep saying it. Big Sur is great, I love it, I even wrote about how much I love it. But sometimes you can’t muster the energy to get yourself out of the house and drive 20 minutes down the road, amirite? Fortunately for me, the coast that happens to be a three-minute drive from my front door is also pretty dang neat too.


There is a stretch of coast on the pacific face of the Monterey Peninsula between Asilomar State Beach and Point Pinos Lighthouse that is about 1.5 miles long that I generally refer to as Asilomar. Is that the technical name? Maybe, I’m sure someone knows. Anyway, the coast here is pretty rocky with the occasional little sandy cove. Depending on the tide, waves, wind, cloud cover, time of day, the scenes can be dramatically different. Sometimes the coast looks so different from day to day that I forget where I have actually stopped to shoot (and there is only a half-dozen or so places to pull off). What I’m getting at here, is that Asilomar is a great place to practice coastal photography. It might not have the massive waves and amazing cliffs that Big Sur sports, but I love shooting here. It’s pretty much where I taught myself how to shoot the ocean after years of shooting in the mountains.


When I think of my photography there are three things that come to mind: composition, lighting, and aesthetics. The first two are what is required to actually make a photograph. You must point your camera at something interesting and it has to be lit. The third, aesthetics, is subjective. What is interesting to me, the artist? My definition may be different from yours but we both have a valid viewpoint. The combination of all three are required anytime you want to move beyond taking snapshots and start making art.


The thing about Asilomar that brings me back time and again is how different each day is and how the changes in light can be quite dramatic. It is also the thing that makes this location great when you want to try out new styles and techniques. On a calm day you can get something like this:



And on a windy day you can get something like this:



You can get a pretty standard sunset:


Seals lounge on rock at sunset

Or you can get an end-of-days type feel:


ethereal yellow glow in the mist

Keep in mind that every single one of those shots was taken within walking distance of the other. And while I do use some post processing to clean up the exposure and contrast, I generally don’t play with color too much. Side note: I do shoot in RAW format which means to actually get an image that is true to nature I need to do some post processing. Even if this weren’t art, RAW images come out of the camera pretty flat and need a contrast adjustment at bare minimum.


Up above I said that I pretty much learned how to shoot coastal scenes at Asilomar and that wasn’t hyperbole. I did live on the Atlantic coast for a while, so I had shot at the ocean before, but that was a long time ago (relatively speaking). When I first moved to this coast, I quickly learned that it was a completely different animal than the mountains. When it comes to composition, you have to change your perspective. When you shoot in the mountains, you always have something massive to anchor the top third of your shot. Case in point, not too much to worry about in the top half of this shot, Taylor Peak pretty much has you covered:


Taylor Peak, the Lock, Rocky Mountain National Park
The Loch

You don’t need to consider the horizon in nearly the same way as you do at the coast. If you aren’t careful when shooting the sea, you can end up with two-thirds of your image being flat and boring ocean/sky. I had to train myself to look down at the scene as opposed to looking up at scene. For instance, this shot has too much sky, fully half of the image is misty nothingness:


sky and mist

This shot, from literally the exact same location is just aimed down a bit and I find it to be a much stronger image:


long exposure with rocks and cove