I think it’s safe to say that 2020 was a rough year for everyone, and one that made many look inward to who and what are important to us. For me, it was family and my love of nature. There is comfort in knowing I can pick up a camera and escape into its beauty. This photograph of San Diego’s bioluminescent bloom was from one of my first outings after the initial panic of lock down. I had seen algae blooms before, but the intense blue glow of the crashing water felt as if I had stepped into a dream. Although microscopic, the shear numbers of phytoplankton created an ephemeral dance of light among the darkened coast. Standing in frigid water I felt a buzz of excitement. Nature had found a new way to surprise me. In that moment, with my eye to the camera, the stress of the world disappeared.
How I got the shot
Taking this shot of the bioluminescence along San Diego’s coastline was tricky. I chose this location north of Scripps Pier because it had an interesting foreground without much light pollution or people. I waited for the tide to rise. Experimenting with different compositions, I settled on one that used the glow of the rocks to carry the viewer to the distant pier. I liked the contrast of warm and cool tones. Trying to capture everything in one image was the hardest part. I had to balance the lights of the pier, the subtle continuous glow among the rocks, and the brighter glow of the distant crashing wave. I settled on an aperture of f/ 5.0 at 30s and ISO 3200. I kept shooting until I got lucky with a large wave breaking in the distance. I used its glow to balance the foreground rocks and add interest to that section of the image.
What I used
To make this image I used a Canon 5d Mark IV with the excellent Canon 24-70 II f/2.8 lens at 38mm. For support I used a Gitzo tripod and FLM ball head. The exposure was 30 seconds at f/5.0 and ISO 3200. I focused about a third into the scene to maximize the limited depth of field and used the 2-second timer to prevent camera shake. I mostly used basic contrast and levels adjustment in Photoshop’s Camera Raw to cut some of the haze and bring out details in the rocks. Further refinements were done with Tony Kuyper’s luminosity masks (an amazing panel for Photoshop). I also used Topaz DeNoise AI for some subtle noise reduction.
Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I often dreamed of the soaring mountains and rugged coastlines of California. Some twenty years ago I picked up my first camera (an old Canon AE-1) and that urge to go West grew. I was pulled to California’s beauty, and finally ended up in San Diego where I do nature and portrait photography part-time. San Diego offers some great opportunities for local photography, especially along it varied coastline. I also enjoy the bizarre Salton Sea, the mountains and waterfalls of the Eastern Sierras, the untamed beauty of Big Sur, and the iconic views at Yosemite.
Before photography, my first passion was fly fishing. I have early memories of my father flailing away with his rod while I flipped over rocks, the nymphs scurrying away. This love of fishing was a great excuse to get outside. A river had its own mysteries, and much like photography, nature rewarded those who took the time to learn them. I’d obsess over tying flies, studying river entomology, or exploring new fishing holes. Eventually, I looked for ways to share my outdoor excursions with those around me. When I discovered photography, everything clicked. The rush of learning new skills, picking up exotic camera gear, and exploring the world was addictive. My fishing gear soon gathered dust, but with photos I was finally able to share with others what drew me outside.
My photographic journey
I was initially exposed to photography in college. I was studying marine biology and needed an elective class. I picked up a used Canon AE-1, and from there I was hooked. I started photographing my fishing trips, but soon my attention turned to landscape photography. I consumed every magazine and book I could find. I pored through the amazing works of the greats, like Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell, David Muench, John Shaw, and many more. I read about gear, composition, color theory, and dreamed of exotic locations. The beauty of photography is that you never stop learning. There are always new techniques to learn, gear advancements, or images to make. Every trip offers new surprises. I can’t imagine my enthusiasm for nature photography ever waning.
NANPA and me
I’ve been a NANPA member for almost ten years now. I’ve never served on a committee, but the Summits I’ve attended have been an amazing chance to meet new people, learn new skills, and get inspired. My photographs have appeared in several previous Showcases, and it’s always an honor to see my work among so many other amazing photographers.