As usual, the first night on the road it took a long time to get to sleep and I didn’t sleep particularly well. Also as usual, my brain gets into the “OH MY GOD CAN’T SLEEP THROUGH THE ALARM” mode, and so when the alarm really did go off at 5:20 I was already awake and convincing myself the entire region was going to be covered in fog, so it was okay to go back to sleep.

Which, if you know Morro Bay dawns, isn’t necessarily a bad assumption, since the dawn can bring convection fog up and whatever you thought you had for a composition ten minutes before first light disappears into the grey as you watch.

It didn’t work, though, and I got up and got the stupid alarm quiet and stumbled off to the shower. I know my habits well enough to know that if I have my act together I can be out of the hotel room in 45 minutes without really rushing. With sunrise around 7:10 and my shooting location maybe ten minutes away I was giving myself a chance to confirm my scouted location, change if needed and still be set up and ready to go when the light arrived.

Like the sunset the day before I didn’t expect epic skies, and I didn’t get them although I did get some interesting color. Morro Bay can be a challenge to shoot because there is almost always a fog layer offshore that can turn into a grey strip of blah in the sky hugging the ground, and it can be interesting minimizing that or turning it into something interesting (or at least neutral). You can actually see how as we get closer to dawn and the light changes that fog layer loses color and goes grey and (I think) makes the images less interesting. The sky also had a lot of contrails, and they drive me crazy so I was spending energy trying to avoid them or make them look less artificial (or cloning the worst of them out in post later).

My original plan for the morning shoot was to basically flip my position from the sunset and shoot back at the rock, hoping to catch some alpenglow on it with the sun behind me. Failing that, I wanted to at least get some nice light and color in the sky to backstop the rock. As I did in the sunset last night, I also decided to shoot for stitched panorama.

Why panorama?

Why am I shooting panoramas? The first reason has to be that I really like them.

Beyond that, though, they are a way to give me high-megapixel images with lots of detail, which gives me flexibility in use down the road. I can take that image and re-crop it as needed for a given usage, and they print big wonderfully.

This also goes back to my early days when I was figuring this out. A photographer I really took as inspiration was George Lepp, and he had a lot of images that I loved, and when I tried to create similar types of things I failed miserably. I simply couldn’t figure out which lens he was using, and when I went into the field my stuff simply looked terrible. It drove me crazy I couldn’t do those kind of images and couldn’t understand why not.

When I went to the 2009 Morro Photo Expo, George was the keynote photographer, and I was able to sit down and talk to him for a while during a break as well as sit in on his speeches and that’s when I learned that the images I was desperately trying to create with 12mm superwides were actually panoramas taken with standard lenses and stitched together.

Lepp is a great photographer to study if you want to start understanding the possibilities of digital photography as a tool beyond the single image, because very little of what he photographs is done using a single image. He’s a heavy user of panoramas, of focus stacking, HDR, time lapses — he did a class at Creative Live a year or so ago that I highly recommend to see how he takes advantage of these techniques to move beyond what a sensor can capture.

What this allows is for me to create images that have the lens compression aspects of a standard lens or a small telephoto, but create the vast reach of the field of view of the super-wide lenses, and the look is one I really like. Not all situations work for this; among other things, you can’t have things moving in a composition that crosses a stitch so it rarely works for waterfalls, and if you aren’t careful, things like flying birds can clone themselves across your final image. But when it works, I really love the result.

One other aspect I like about this kind of image that you may or may not like is that shooting like this reduces the dependency of finding that key foreground point of interest that’s so necessary to keep super-wide images from being boring. Not really an option for this location in any event.

The work Lepp does is one reason why when I hear people start arguing about how it’s not real photography unless you do it in camera and don’t manipulate the images that I just sit back and smile quietly and let them convince themselves they’re smarter than the rest of us. Most of those people are likely big fans of photographers who are in reality doing a lot of manipulation but because they do it well you don’t see it for what it is. What we are all really against is BAD manipulation.

The morning shoot

I ended up with 8 panoramas from the morning shoot, starting at 6:50AM (about 25 minutes before dawn) and ending at 7:05. I stopped then because the light just faded to blah and I felt I had some nice results. There were two earlier tries that when I loaded them up at home I realized my focus was off and they were soft so I tossed them, which I’ll blame on lack of sleep and caffeine.

All of these were shot at ISO 200 (the X-T2 base ISO) at F/11 using the 18-155 lens set up in portrait on an L-bracket. shutter speed started at 1.5 seconds for the first one and ended with 1/7 of a second for the final one, with no filters. I’ve tried shooting in a similar position with the NDs for long exposures and realized what happens when you do a 30 second exposure and all of the boats wobble in the water. One of these days I’ll do some experimenting with how long I can get away with to try to smooth the water, but I didn’t want to do that AND the panorama stitching at the same time.

My favorite image from this shoot has to be the first one from earliest in the morning. there’s a hint of glow on the rock and I love the light on the boats. the boats are why I shot this position in the first place, and in some ways I feel both these shots and the ones from last night’s sunset are more travel type images than landscapes, which was part of my goal.

Morro Bay Harbor and Rock Sunrise Panorama

Morro Bay Harbor and Rock Sunrise Panorama

Morro Bay Harbor and Rock Sunrise Panorama

Morro Bay Harbor and Rock Sunrise Panorama

And after these shots, it was time to find breakfast, go watch the otters for a bit and then head out for the day’s walk.