Surf’s Up

080114007 Flying Surfer

I live near one of the top surfing spots in the country: “The Hook” at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz County. It’s a spot well known for its dependable waves, easy ocean access and beauty. It’s more suited for experienced surfers and often professional surfers and major competitors can be found here . You can see both longboard and shortboard surfing and both are exciting to watch. The Hook area of Pleasure Point is also home to Jack O’Neill, well known in the surfing and diving world as the inventor of the neoprene wetsuit.

I am probably the only non-surfer in my neighborhood but I enjoy surfing photography. I can occasionally be found photographing at The Hook on good surf days in the winter and spring when the northwest swells are in.  However, for the photographer if not the surfers, surfing is good anytime even though the summer waves tend to be smaller.

Santa Cruz County recently finished a major construction project along the Pleasure Point cliffs.  They shored up (pardon the pun) the cliffs to slow the erosion process and built new stairs from the top of the bluff to all of the beaches and key access points.  The best thing they did for surfing watchers and photographers was to rebuild the observation area.

Photographing surfing can often be a difficult proposition. The action is fast and a DSLR camera set at about 800-1200 ISO is best. As always, I use a tripod with a ball head which allows both stability and movement. The distance from the action requires a lot of glass and I typically use a 400 mm lens. Unfortunately, even when mounted on a tripod, a lens of that size is subject to vibration from the almost constant wind.

I have often seen people with cameras shooting “rapid fire” to capture the action.  It’s unnecessary, though, and indicates a lack of planning, thought and visualization.  Think about the image you want to capture and visualize the finished result before ever aiming the camera.  Determine the correct exposure prior to shooting, be patient and watch the action.  Fire only when you’ve gone through this process and you will achieve good results.

Remember, and this applies to photographers and non-photographers, the true camera is in your mind and your eye is the lens; the camera is only a tool.  Surf’s up!


Duck, Duck, Goose

111015028  Children Feeding Ducks - Westlake ver 31 MAY 13 111015028BW  Children Feeding Ducks - Westlake ver 31 MAY 13

I was on a walk around Westlake Park in Santa Cruz on a beautiful  October evening with the mission of photographing the recently arrived great blue heron (see my blog of the 11th of May).  On my way to shooting the heron, I came upon a father and his children feeding the ducks and geese.  I watched them play for a little while and realized there was a good photo op happening.  I studied them for a few minutes and visualized an image in black and white.  I had my digital camera with me so I shot the image in color to be processed into black and white later.

Many photographers, particularly those of us that are a little on the more “seasoned” side,  began with black and white film then switched to Kodachrome then Ektachrome (or Velvia) and finally to digital.  Then some of us either returned to black and white film or began creating black and white images digitally.

My photographic focus (sorry!) has been nature and in recent years it has been mustangs.  These subjects lend themselves to black and white for me.  I find black and white people photography, to be much more difficult.

I was trained using b&w film and was quite used to carrying red, green, blue and yellow filters around with me.  I visualized my images in black and white and I knew how to use the filters to achieve the result that I wanted.

The digital world is a bit different.  In order to get the best possible b&w image, you need to photograph in color and then convert the image into b&w in the computer.  This requires me to see the color image in the camera and computer before I make the b&w image.   As a result, I find myself comparing the color and b&w images and then making a decision about which image I like best.  I analyzed both of these images in Photoshop and I preferred the black and white to the color.  That’s how I initially visualized the photograph and I decided to stick with my original idea.

What do you think?  Which image do you like better, the one in color or the b&w?  Please send me a comment with your opinion.

By the way, a little bit of advice: I recommend that you not use the b&w settings in the camera because they won’t adequately duplicate the effect of film.  The best results come from your image processing software and your printer.  The better the software / printer combination, the better the b&w image.  Make the investment in either Photoshop (not Elements) or a processor of equivalent capability and don’t set the camera to black and white.


As of today, my photographs are for sale at Scotts Valley Artisans, 230-D Mt. Hermon Rd., Scotts Valley, CA 95066.  Their website is at  Drop by and visit if you’re in the area.