It’s been gorgeous in Central California the past couple of weeks. We had just enough rain in March to help the flowers pop, and now the green grass and yellow poppies are dominating the foothills. It seems like every morning beckons us to pick up our cameras and hit the road – and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ve crisscrossed the State, finding some unique, and some not-so-unique, photographic opportunities.
Rochelle and I spent a couple of mornings at Railtown State Park this past week taking photographs with members of the Sonora Photo Club. This is the second year Railtown has worked with the Photo Club on a special summer-long photo display and sale. It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to see, and maybe even buy, our printed photographs, so we wanted to make sure we got some high-quality shots for this year’s event.
The biggest challenge this year was coming up with new ideas for photographs. There were so many great photos in the display last year; it felt like it would be impossible to come up with anything new, much less anything better. But there is also a big advantage in shooting a place or an event a second, a third, or even a forty-third time around. We now have a pretty good idea of where things were happening, and even more important, when they would happen. It allowed us to pre-visualize our photographs.
What does pre-visualizing a photograph mean? I think the main difference between an experienced photographer and a beginner isn’t the pro’s wealth of knowledge on the latest camera technology. It isn’t their ability to know the ins and outs of the zone system or how much carbon fiber is in their tripod. What makes a pro a pro is his ability to make a photograph that matches a scene that’s already been composed in his head. (Hmmm, seeing that I know more female photographers than males, I should probably be saying “her” head.)
So before we even packed up our little B-class motorhome, Charley, with our camera gear, I pretty much knew the types of shots I wanted to get, and where I had to be to get them. That doesn’t mean I could just walk right up to the perfect spot, plunk down my bag and wait for “THAT EPIC SHOT”. Nope. I had still had to do a bit of scouting
Simply put, scouting means you check out where the action is going to be from every conceivable angle. The best part of scouting is being able to pre-compose a photograph with the real scene in front of you. You’ll have a good idea of where to stand, what lens to use and whether or not you’ll need a tripod or a flash. Events often happen faster than you can react. It’s so much better to have quick-moving events come to you, where you’re already prepared to make the most of them.
Of course, you aren’t just looking for potential photographs when you’re scouting. Sometimes that special photograph is just there, waiting to be taken. That was almost the case with this shot of Rochelle’s. The shot was there, but it didn’t wait. Let me explain. Rochelle saw some wonderful sun beams as she walked around the Railtown workshop. She thought they’d be a fantastic addition to a portrait she wanted to do, but by the time she got set up the dust had settled, and the rays of light had disappeared. Her answer to this dilemma? Throw a little more dust in the air. Hey, we’re not journalists. We’re allowed to manipulate the scene.
Rochelle is a “little” less interested in trains than I am, but she found they do make great subjects for her new obsession, Digital Painting. This shot of Engine Number 3 releasing giant streams of steam really comes alive as a painting.
We were thrilled to get a message from a friend of ours on the East Coast that she was going to visit San Francisco and she hoped we could come over and spend a day shooting with her. How could we pass up an opportunity like that? It sounded so fun in fact, that we invited some more of our photo friends to join us. This time however, we left Charley at home. San Francisco is many, many things, but being friendly to an RV, even one of Charley’s diminutive size is not one of them. So we hopped in the Subaru and took off.
Our first meeting point was the California State Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park. The place is a wonder. Complete with its own rainforest, giant aquarium, planetarium and a host of other attractions, you can easily spend a day or two wondering its many levels. And it’s a great place to chat with friends as you stroll or eat lunch at their great international-flavored restaurant. If you like to shoot birds, butterflies, fish and amphibians, this is the place for you.
We left the museum in the late afternoon, hoping we could get some shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, but the City’s Trademark photo op was covered in fog. Oh well. It was off to a great Italian dinner in Sausalito and what we thought would be the end of our shooting day. But, I had a thought, which turned out to be a great thought, to check out the Oakland Bay Bridge on the way out of town. The fog that plagued us by the Golden Gate hadn’t made its way across town so we were able to shoot a classic shot of the Bay Bridge and these wonderful old pilings. It’s not original by any means, but hey, sometimes you just have to shoot the obvious.
And speaking of obvious, I did mention hillsides covered with poppies at the start of this story, didn’t I? I bet you thought I’d forgotten. Well, I didn’t forget. We headed over to Merced River Canyon just west of Yosemite Valley and were treated to hillsides covered in the little orange beauties. I’m not usually much for shooting flowers, but I couldn’t help myself this time. But if I had any reservations, Rochelle certainly didn’t . She ran into those hillsides as fast as her legs could carry her. She was in her element.
Now is a great time to visit Yosemite. A quick update – the Falls are running at full blast, the meadows are green and the dogwood trees are just starting to blossom. Spring is very early this year, and the road to Glacier Point is already open. I expect to see news that the Tioga Pass is open as well soon, and that will be very early. It usually isn’t open till late May.