As I’ve talked about before, I’ve been struggling to get my photography on track, and while I’m pretty happy with my bird/wildlife work these days, my landscape work has continued to mostly piss me off and feel forced and uninteresting.

I finally decided that what I needed to do was go and just take myself back to the basics. Since I recently interviewed for a job that really interested me and I thought I’d done well in interviews, not getting it put me in a bit of a down mood and so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and head out for a few days and focus just on the camera.

Because I know the area well and it’s a great place to go and unplug, I headed down to Morro Bay, arriving Sunday afternoon and staying until Wednesday morning. I stayed at the normal place, the Best Western El Rancho, which is a classic 1950’s style road motel that’s got four one story buildings and about 20 rooms total.

The good news of arriving Sunday and staying mid-week is you can get cheaper rooms, the downside is a number of restaurants I’ve been wanting to try close Monday or Monday and Tuesday because it’s the quieter time — so they stay on the “someday” list.

Before driving down, I sat down and set myself some goals for the trip. I seriously considered not bringing my big bird lens at all, but decided to carry it; instead I agreed with myself not to use it until I had finished my planned landscape work first. Some of the things I wanted to try to accomplish included:

  • Treat the trip as a travel photography trip
  • Blue hour of the harbor area
  • Reflections
  • Textures and abstracts
  • Play with depth of field
  • Macro lens
  • Fisheye
  • Shoot for b/w

In all honesty, I didn’t think I’d hit everything on that list, but I wanted to see which ones I could do in the time I was there.

After checking in and loading up the room, I prepped the gear and headed out for my first shoot, which was going to be sunset on the harbor. The skies were cloudless and I didn’t expect much color, much less epic color, so I chose to shoot from the rock back at the city rather than shoot the rock itself.

Shoot 1: Morro Bay harbor and city at sunset

This trip being about slowing down and getting back to basics of Landscape work, I scouted out a few possible locations, chose the one I liked, parked the car and unpacked the gear, and set up to shoot that composition deep into the blue hour.

I decided to shoot these as stitched panoramas so I could get that detail-heavy image and large pixel size which gives me a lot of flexibility, so I used the X-T2 and the 18-135 lens in portrait mode on the tripod along with a remote shutter. The tripod has a panorama swivel so once it’s leveled, the mechanics of shooting the images is pretty straight forward (having said that, I still screwed up one when I skipped an area).

My first image was shot around 6:20PM. This time of year in Morro Bay, Golden hour runs from about 5:45 to 6:45 and Blue hour 6:45 to about 7:30 (astronomical twilight) with sunset about 6:20. I didn’t start up until 6:30 because of a combination of an early dinner and that the light was really blah (so why bother).

I ended up with 11 images I liked, and shot a 12th I deleted because I messed up the stitching overlap. Some images I shot using ND filters and others were without filters; I didn’t use a polarizer.

Morro Bay Harbor and City Sunset

Morro Bay Harbor and City Sunset

Morro Bay Harbor and City Sunset

Morro Bay Harbor and City Sunset

Morro Bay Harbor and City Sunset

My thoughts on this shoot.

I’ve been listening to a lot of the Youtube videos of Thomas Heaton the last couple of weeks; his views have really helped me focus on slowing down and thinking through the landscape work. I think part of my problem is that I’ve been rushing: to a good degree, the run-and-gun read-and-react aspects of bird photography put me into that mindset with landscapes as well. Making myself sit down, think it through and work the composition really helped.

I think the 7:04PM shot is my favorite by a wide margin, my next favorite is 6:56PM. And I think this series shows an important tool for landscape photographers: rather than get in the mindset of having to move around to find different images, allowing the movement of time to bring those changes to you. There’s a massive shift in these images from the first to the last, even though the tripod literally did not move through the entire sequence.

Careful viewers of the images will notice that final image is very, very blue. I shifted the color balance to Tungsten for that one to play up the blue aspect of the time, which also took most of the lights along the city and docks and pushed them to a very bright white. I like the results but I think it’s the kind of thing you need to use sparingly; I think in general I prefer the warmer yellows of the lights on the water, but for that one image, I really think that processing decision works as well.

Overall I’m really happy with the entire sequence. Once I finished with these, I did some quick experiments in shooting the rock at night from where I was, hated the results and tossed them all out, but it was worth trying to give me a better sense of how to do it right some other time.

And once I ended that, I packed up my gear, headed back to the room, kicked back and loaded the images into the laptop to take a quick look and think about what I’d do in the morning, which was going to arrive much sooner than I really wanted it to…