Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bowling Ball Beach and the Mendocino Coast

I've been visiting California's North Coast for decades to go abalone diving, fishing, and for weddings, but I recently decided to try a dedicated photography trip to the area. My main objective was Bowling Ball Beach, where a minus tide is recommended to reach and photograph some unique round rocks that are covered at high tide. The minus tides tend to be in Winter and Spring, so I targeted dome of thelowest tides of the year in Early April when the low tide would coincide with sunrise.

I arrived early enough the day before to scout the area and catch a few nice sunset and dusk shots.

This is a 30 second exposure, which is long enough to abstract the motion of the waves into a misty flat surface. This version of the shot also boosts the saturation of the blue in the ocean and the sunset colors in the sky (Adobe Lightroom allows saturation adjustment of individual colors). Using 30 second exposures, each scene takes over 3 minutes: 30 seconds for the exposure, 30 seconds for the camera's noise reduction, then two more minutes for bracketed exposures. Then add any time for repositioning your tripod and framing the new shot. Sunset passes quickly at this rate, so pick your shots carefully but quickly. This sort of continuous use also drains batteries quickly, so have a spare on hand and consider how you're going to recharge before you go back out at dawn (I use an in-car charger).

The next morning I woke at 5am, well before my alarm, which would have allowed me to sleep in until 5:30. I often sleep in the back of my vehicle so there's no dew-soaked tent to pack. I pulled on some warm clothes and threw enough gear out of the driver's seat to enable me to drive off. I was staying at Manchester State Beach, one of the 48 parks that the State of California plans on closing this Summer due to poor fiscal management, so I only had an 8 mile, 15 minute drive to reach the beach.

When I arrived temperatures were chilly in the 40s with a light wind already blowing, so I bundled up in layers plus a windbreaker, a warm hat and fingerless gloves that convert to mittens so I can operate my camera and stay warm. To handle any shooting angle along the shore, including on slippery wet rocks or partway into the surf, I wore my fishing waders with high traction felt sole boots with steel-cleats. I made the short hike to the beach before sunrise, but there was no sunrise color to speak of, and the light remained uninteresting until sunlight started filtering through the blufftop trees.

There were some nice shots to be found among the rocks, as long as you avoided full sunlight.

Unfortunately one of the best shots showing the "bowling balls" on the leading lines in the bedrock happened to be in full sun, so it was a bit washed out at this tie of day. It will be worthwhile to return some day in the late afternoon to get better lighting.

I'll also want to return to try some very long exposures during a moonlit low tide, when the waves can be even more completely abstracted and star trails can add detail to the sky.

For more examples of images from this area, check out shots like this one and this. See also Jughandle State Park, Kibasilla Creek, Caspar Point / Jackass Creek, and so on.