Big Sur Classic

Rocky coastline at Soberanes Point, Garrapata State Park, Big Sur, California (Russ Bishop/Russ Bishop Photography)

Rocky coastline at Soberanes Point, Garrapata State Park, Big Sur, California (click for large view)

The Big Sur coast is one of those truly special locations that never fails to impress. The rocky shoreline and misty mountains are instantly recognizable the world over, yet her mood is constantly changing throughout the seasons providing a fresh perspective with each new visit.

From the early morning fog to the golden sunsets, this meeting of land and sea is in a constant state of flux. And as you make your way along that magical ribbon known as Highway 1, each turn reveals a slightly different scene that somehow seems more dramatic than the last.

For photographers, this perpetual change is ideal and the challenge of making fresh images (often faced in many other landmarks) is all but removed. The Big Sur coast is also part of the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary and its rich sea life, including Elephant Seals, otters. and migrating gray whales, provides yet another opportunity for great imagery.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Sand Dollar Beach

Wildflowers above Sand Dollar Beach, Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur, California (© Russ Bishop/ above Sand Dollar Beach, Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur, California

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which stretches from San Francisco to Cambria California, is the largest preserve in the nation and one of the richest marine environments in the world. Migrating grey whales, sea otters and elephant seals are just some of the protected wildlife that can be experienced along this magnificent stretch of coastline.

Sand Dollar Beach in the Los Padres National Forest is one of highlights along the southern stretch of the Big Sur coast. It is one of the most rugged and scenic areas on the Pacific and a favorite location for photographers, surfers and beachcombers alike.  A well-maintained trail leads down to a half-mile crescent where tide pools, caves, a rich vein of jade, and the elusive sand dollar add to the unique experience at this special place.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Government Shutdown Alternatives

Cypress Tree (Cupressus macrcarpa) at sunset, Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel, California USA (Russ Bishop/Russ Bishop Photography)

Cypress Tree (Cupressus macrocarpa) at sunset, Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel, California USA

It’s unfortunate that this week our government here in the US has closed its doors, especially for those who had travel plans to visit our wonderful national parks. But all is not lost as there are many beautiful locations in state parks, wilderness, and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas around the country that are open and often free of charge.

In California, a few of the standouts include Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (the largest in California and second largest in the country). Northeast of San Diego, this sprawling wilderness park offers endless hiking and photographic potential in a remote setting of cactus covered hillsides and palm oasis. With Borrego Springs as your base, you can enjoy day hikes from numerous lodging options in town, or wilderness camp for free under a star-filled sky and not see a soul for days.

Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey, Garrapata and Limekiln State Parks (all on the Big Sur Coast), provide some of the best views on the California coast. Limekiln includes coastal access and camping and trails through a primeval forest of old growth redwoods and crystal clear streams. Garrapata is a rugged, undeveloped park adjacent to Highway 1 offering quiet coves, sea arches, and stunning views of the Pacific.

Further north, Point Lobos State Reserve, which was a local haunt of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It’s wind-swept shores of rare Monterey cypress are a diver’s paradise and a great place to watch migrating whales and sea otters – and the sunsets can be truly spectacular. Other excellent spots in the area include Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and Sand Dollar Beach in the Los Padres National Forest. On the east side of the state along Highway 395 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Alabama Hills under Mount Whitney are a vast moon-scape of giant boulders and arches made famous in early Hollywood movies and a wonderful photographic destination.

So while the politicians in Washington try to see eye to eye, those who had planned to visit America’s best idea don’t have to feel short-changed. There’s still plenty of natural beauty waiting to be explored outside the confines of the National Park System.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

The Trouble with Bad Light

Cascade on Hare Creek, Limekiln State Park, Big Sur, California USA (© Russ Bishop/

Cascade on Hare Creek, Limekiln State Park, Big Sur, California USA

How many times have you arrived at a scene, anxious and ready for the show to begin only to find that Mother Nature had other plans. The light is far from spectacular, and your perfect image just faded before your eyes (or sensor) ever had a chance to capture it. Typical? Yes, but there’s just one problem. There is no such thing as bad light!

The issue is more with perception than the reality before you. Sure it requires a change of plan, but photography in its simplest form is painting with light (any light) and in that context, it’s all good.

Big puffy clouds will always add drama to a landscape. But what if the sky is a sea of blue with nothing to balance the frame except an intense sun in the wrong location? Use a small aperture with that wide-angle lens and create a dynamic sunstar. This is a great opportunity for visual storytelling. Include a silhouette of a person involved in an activity or a defining landform and you’ve just turned that bad light into a compelling image.

But now you say the sky is completely overcast with no light anywhere? This is the perfect time to point your lens to the finer details below the horizon or at your feet. In this case, the sky is simulating a giant studio softbox with broad even lighting and no shadows – perfect for macro shots and isolating elements of the scene with a telephoto. That drab looking light will actually enhance the colors of flowers and trees, and combined with a slow shutter speed it will turn water into silk.

So the next time you’re met with less than ideal conditions, think twice before packing it in. Taking a different approach to the weather and thinking outside the box could be the only difference between creating some powerful imagery or nothing at all.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved