As a favourite slice of coastal Californian wilderness, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve has captured my photographic eye on many occasions. Every season brings new colours and light to the landscape and seemingly endless sea, but every now and then, I like to investigate a familiar place with shades of black and white in mind.
These two images were both created on the same day; bright sunlight at water’s edge with the sparkling Pacific ocean waves along the rocky coast fading into the distance, and dappled soft forest light falling over the repeating natural pattern and texture of whale bones.
I love discovering how the larger features and themes of a place are so often echoed in the details, and it can be particularly satisfying to use black and white photography to explore and emphasize these similarities and contrasts. The bones and smooth shoreline rocks catch the sunlight in similar ways, highlighting their beautiful natural textures.
Wandering the streets of San Francisco with a camera has always been a rewarding experience; along with being an interesting, often picturesque urban environment, there is endless opportunity for the unexpected.
This is a favourite image from my archives, captured on a relaxed summer afternoon of city exploration. I had never ventured far into one of the commercial complexes near the Embarcadero Plaza, and was wandering through the network of bridges and walkways that linked shops and restaurants in a canyon of office buildings and hotels. At one crossing of paths, I noticed a stairway leading down to the level below, and paused to admire the echo of form, texture, and tone in the large fern that grew in the curve of the stairs.
While composing the frame and trying to balance shapes and leading lines, a woman walked down the stairs, and as she reached the bottom I captured a single frame. I had not planned on the human element, but I love how it adds a sense of motion to an otherwise static scene. In black and white, the texture and tone of the mosaic floors and fern become more cohesive, and the spiralling, circular structures of concrete, plant, railing and tile frame and compliment each other, tying it all together.
This image is included in my Black and White Prints collection, and offers both architectural interest and a timeless moment full of details that invite reflection.
Mysterious, dark, quiet; a grove of trees in the coastal mountains of Big Sur, full of mist and morning light. I’d arrived at the campsite after dark, chasing the sunset down the winding curves of Highway 1 and setting-up camp as stars appeared overhead. During the night, fog gathered along cliffs and settled into valleys, and I woke to find the forest shrouded in soft layers of light.
Camping on the California coast is often a damp, chilly affair, and this day was no exception. The warmth of a small fire, the coziness of a sleeping bag and a book, the sound of the nearby ocean all helped to pass the time.
As the sun settled again to the west, the early evening light filtered into the deeper, shadowy corners of the forest grove and campground, and I was able to capture this layered scene full of contrasts and soft tonality. The branches of the trees lend a sense of enclosed space; a cathedral of organic shapes and windows of light. Of all of my Big Sur experiences this moment remains one of my favourites, full of the restorative, meditative mood I found present in that particular time and place.
While on a walk through the coastal forest of Mendocino County in California, I came upon a quietly running clear stream. Sunlight filtered through the trees above, illuminating the rippling water as it passed over smooth, multicoloured stones, creating ribbons of light across the shadowy stream-bed. I only shot two frames of this spot, close and abstracted in black and white to emphasize the tone and texture of the contrasting liquid and hard rocky surfaces. A fluid moment in time brought to life by the shimmering motion of light through water.
Most of the photographs I collect when visiting Fort Point, San Francisco are of the architecture and magical spaces between shadow and light created by the repeating motifs and angles of the Fort itself. Climbing the steep stairs to the top of the structure, one is rewarded with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and this day was no exception.
I have seen this place at various times of day, in different seasons, all types of weather, and part of the what keeps bringing me back with my camera is the potential for dramatically framed, constantly shifting scenes. On this particular July afternoon, the fog had settled heavily along the water, and as I admired the form of the bridge vanishing into the mist, a pair of figures paused in just the right spot to unexpectedly add balance to the frame.
As I had been at that moment experimenting with the panoramic capabilities of my phone, I quickly captured this photo with the camera in hand, rather than risk losing the moment while switching to my DSLR. I did managed to grab a couple similar frames with the big camera afterward, but for me this image stands alone.
Minutes later, the couple had moved on, and the fog began to lift, giving way to a glorious sunny day and a large pod of humpback whales feeding beneath the bridge – those particular photos will get their own post – proving that one never knows just how fleeting a moment will be or what will come next!
At Kennedy Space Center, I entered the building housing the remarkable Saturn V exhibit, and looking up, this is the first thing I saw; intricate, astounding engineering on an enormous scale. I love this image, because I can remember that moment of awe, and every time I look at it I notice some new arrangement of shapes and mechanics, textures and tones.
Even more incredible, this is Stage 1 of a rocket that took mankind to the moon, and it is entirely built by hand. I admire such workmanship, and understand that it took many talented minds and hands to assemble such a feat of engineering.
My digital black and white images are all tuned “by hand” as well – I do not use plugins or presets, and instead rely on my own sense of tonality, contrast and composition to bring a certain mood and focus to each photo. It is a labor of love, and as a result this image has proven to be quite striking as a large print.
I was recently challenged to a ‘7 Days, 7 Black & White Photos’ exercise on social media. My path in photography started with black and white film, yet now it is usually an afterthought and simply a processing choice in the digital darkroom.
Shooting with black and white in mind is always a welcome return to the fundamentals of light, shadow, and composition. These particular images were captured with my phone, so the resolution is limited. The rules were basic: images of everyday life, no people, no explanations or captions.
I may experiment with printing a few of these, and returning to capture similar photos with the full resolution of the DSLR. More importantly, I am going to try to seek out more black and white photos as I shoot; creatively, such photography focuses my intent and prompts me to see the familiar with fresh eyes, which always provides a boost to other aspects of my life.
A true scenic gem of the California coast, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a revelation in every season. The dramatic rocky cliffs offer sweeping views to the South, and on a clear January day the distant mountains of Big Sur offer an otherworldly sense of scale to hikers who wander the Point Lobos trails.
Exploring the Northern coves and cliffs of Point Lobos reveals a surreal woodland, where afternoon light filters through gnarled, wind-blown trees and strange red algae thrives in a mix of sea-salt-spray and near-constant fog. This forest frames the landscape exquisitely, and around every bend a new postcard-perfect vista is revealed.
There are historical sites here too, as Point Lobos saw significant whaling operations into the late 1800’s. From the textural rocks and trees to the whale bones on display, the details of Point Lobos are rich with stories.
Winter offers bright, crisp, sunny days in between storms, and with spring comes a rush of vibrant life; beautiful Douglas Iris fill the shady green meadows with purple wildflowers, and the quietest coves become nurseries for plump harbour seal pups, playing in the shallows and lounging on the beaches.
In the summer and fall, the evenings are often moody with mist, and the tree-line can appear ghostly above the shimmering ocean water. No matter the season of time of day, any visit to the Monterey Bay would be incomplete without a walk along one of the many Point Lobos trails. For many years I was fortunate enough to live just up the coast from this special place, and with every expedition on which I carried my camera, I would see remarkable wildlife and seasonal changes set against an incredibly dramatic and powerful landscape. I have recently gathered my Point Lobos photographs into a new gallery, with many images available for licensing and as prints.
The personally creative side of my photography goes through variations of inspiration and focus. Sometimes I have the time and energy to create extensive, comprehensive bodies of work, and sometimes my muses emerge over long periods of study, often with many returns to the same subject over many, many years.
My love of Fort Point, San Francisco, began as a child with an old manual SLR camera and countless rolls of black and white film. It was a place my family would frequently stop to visit on our way into or out of ‘the City’ when visiting with friends or playing tour guide to visitors from out-of-state. These two shots are from one of those early rolls of film, scanned ages ago when the at-home scanning technology was still rather limiting.
We likely visited Fort Point so often due to my father’s photography hobby, which I suspect led him to love the place then as much as I do now; with an overwhelming array of juxtapositions, angles, textures, layers of light and shadow, the intersection of Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge is a photographer’s paradise.
Now, I’m the one pitching it to visiting friends who want to spend a day in San Francisco, and it’s likely that for many years I’ve always managed to end the day at this historic spot, camera in-hand, without really thinking about my ulterior motives. Fort Point has emerged as one of my most beloved muses and I never tire of hunting out the details and architectural compositions that I find so interesting there.
Working through my archives, I recently spent some time processing a handful of cityscapes and architectural shots from a trip to San Francisco last year. These two images were shot on the same day, and depict different angles on the same windows and balconies of one building.
This image intrigued me, with looming rows of railings, the couple hidden in the shadows, and the layers of squared corners and circles at the top. The tone and texture of the building against the blue sky seems to add another layer of interest, as it is difficult to decide whether this building might be a modern experiment from years past, or some possibly futuristic structure.
The second image frames one edge of the angular building in the heavy concrete of a foreground structure. I chose to work in black and white for this view, as the elements of interest are all caught up in the layered angles, and in the balance of light and shadow as the afternoon light settles across the skyline.
It is important for me to routinely challenge my eye with these comparisons, as it can take so little to bring an entirely new meaning to a photograph. Which interpretation of this building do you prefer?
Feels a bit like time is slipping through my fingers lately – having completely rebuilt my archives of 30,000+ images, I’ve admittedly needed a little break from the digital darkroom and the endless queue of shots still waiting to be processed. An escape to the edge of the world, where dunes and sand melt away into endless ocean waves might be in order…
This particular sort of mix of light and water could keep me occupied for an eternity – it seems to me to be a place where that which should be easily described achieves a rather intangible quality, and even a simple walk along a beach with the steady flow and motorized hum of four-wheeling traffic can become something more ethereal from the right angle. Our relationship to these places is frequently overshadowed by all of the ways we try to impose a usefulness upon the landscape, when really, just being present at that intersection of time and space is the more fulfilling experience.
Some places have a special kind of nostalgia, often unexpected and off the beaten-path. San Francisco’s Fort Point National Historic Site offers many angles on both the water and striking architecture, from a strategic spot beneath the Golden Gate Bridge at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. A photographer’s dream location, the light is always interesting and the compositional opportunities are seemingly endless. I have rolls of film shot here when I was a child, enthusiastically clicking-away in the echoing halls while sight-seeing with my family. I’d love to work with a model or two in this space sometime, but for now I’m content to explore these familiar arching passages and the dramatic setting for structure’s sake.