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12.17.2012

Point Reyes Photo Workshop

Q: What do you get when you combine sun, sand, waves, and wildlife with eager nature photographers?

A: A great Point Reyes National Seashore photo workshop and lots of cool photos!

Sunrise on Drakes Beach was spectacular. The light colored cliffs, which Sir Francis Drake likened to England’s Cliffs of Dover, glowed in the early morning light while waves calmly swept across the fine-grained sand of the protected strand. Sigma SD1, 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens, Sigma Circular Polarizer filter, f/16, 1/2 sec. ISO 100, Gitzo GT2541EX tripod. Processed in Sigma Photo Pro 5.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.4, and Photoshop CS5, Nick Viveza plug-in applied. Photo copyright 2012 David FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

Organized by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association Field Institute and sponsored by Sigma, the “Seascape and Wildlife Photography Weekend” proved to be a great success. Beginning Friday afternoon (10/19) through Sunday (10/21), the three-day photo workshop was based at the historic Lifeboat Station at the extreme tip of the Point Reyes peninsula.

Twelve photographers traversed beaches, hiked trails, spotted wildlife, and ate and slept at the historic life boat station at Point Reyes National Seashore. “Seascape and Wildlife Photography Weekend” was organized by the Field Institute, part of the Point Reyes National Seashore Association, and sponsored by Sigma. PRNSA facilitators Bill Helsel and Grace Bourke are in the front row, far right. In the back row, second from the left is Jared Ivy, Sigma’s west coast rep. To his right is “Seascapes and Wildlife” workshop leader, Sigma Pro David FitzSimmons. Sigma SD1, 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens, f/11, 1/200 sec. ISO 100, on-camera flash fired, Gitzo GT2541EX tripod. Processed in Sigma Photo Pro 5.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.4, and Photoshop CS5, Nick Viveza plug-in applied. Photo copyright 2012 David FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

The weekend started with dense fog Friday afternoon, providing a soft backdrop for close-at-hand mule deer near the Point Reyes lighthouse. On Saturday morning the fog gave way to beautiful partly cloudy skies. The photographers, the two Field Institute facilitators—Bill Helsel and Grace Bourke—and the West Coast Sigma rep, Jared Ivy, joined me for in-the-field shoots interspersed with classroom sessions on landscape and seascape photography, sunrise and sunset techniques, macro imaging, and specialized computer programs for nature photographers, including Helicon Focus stacking and Photomatix HDR software.

McClures Beach is a special place at sunset, so we headed that direction mid-afternoon, stopping to photograph tule elk along the way. We hiked down to McClures beach, where we saw an elephant seal on shore getting ready to molt. Half the group remained on the long, open stretch of McClures Beach for the golden hours; others of us squeezed through the narrow rock passage to gain access the isolated, rocky beach just to the south.

Not only did we get a beautiful sunset with golden rays hitting the rocky cliffs and monoliths just off shore but we also were treated to a waxing moon rising into the midnight blue sky.

McClures Beach is one of the most spectacular sunset spots on the West Coast. With pounding surf, rocky cliffs, and spectacular monoliths extending into the water, it’s a seascape photographer’s dream location. If you time it right, you may even capture moonrise with sunset. Sigma SD1, 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens, f/8, 2 sec. ISO 100, Gitzo GT2541EX tripod. Processed in Sigma Photo Pro 5.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.4, and Photoshop CS5, Nick Viveza plug-in applied. Photo copyright 2012 David FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

As if Saturday’s sunset weren’t special enough, Sunday’s sunrise was perhaps even more inspiring. Optimal conditions for a photogenic sunrise include low to mid-level clouds moving east with a break near the horizon, where the sun can shine through to illuminate the undersides of the clouds. This recipe for dramatic color came together, with spectacular results for our workshop group.

Throughout sunsets and sunrises, I encourage photographers to move around, to get low to the ground for unusual perspectives, and to add polarizer and neutral density filters to slow shutter speeds in order to create painterly-blurred waves.

With polarizing and neutral density filters attached in order to slow the crashing waves into beautiful swirling patterns, workshop photographers position their tripods low on McClures Beach for striking shots of the late afternoon sun hitting sand and surf. Sigma SD1, 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens, Sigma Circular Polarizer filter, f/8, 1/250 sec. ISO 400, Gitzo GT2541EX tripod. Processed in Sigma Photo Pro 5.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.4, and Photoshop CS5, Nick Viveza plug-in applied. Photo copyright 2012 David FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

By the end of the weekend, we had photographed all kinds of conditions, from softening fog to bright sunny skies, from a beautiful sunrise to a memorable combination sunset/moonrise, and our wildlife sightings included all kinds of birds—such as pelicans, cormorants, Western gulls, Heermann’s gulls, herons, and a pair of great-horned owls—as well as Tule elk, mule deer, elephant seals, and a juvenile bobcat.

If you missed out on the fun this year…stay tuned! Sigma, the PRNSA Field Institute, and I are planning more workshops for 2013 and beyond! New Point Reyes events will be posted here as they are added. You may also request to be added to the FitzSimmons Photography email newsletter at contact page on www.fitzsimmonsphotography.com.


Want to see more of David’s work? Check out his award winning children’s picture book, CURIOUS CRITTERS, which features images exclusively photographed with Sigma lenses. Visit www.curious-critters.com.

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