As much as I love the redwood forests, the rugged, rocky coastline of northern California is just as beautiful, and just as essential to the character of this region. You can go from the windy, noisy, wide-open expanses of the coast to the calm, quiet, dense forests in minutes, and the transition is breathtaking. Along many trails through the redwoods you can hear the surf in the distance – while watching the fog roll in off the ocean and into the woods. To me, it’s the close proximity and interaction between the ocean and forests that creates the wonderful, wild mood of this place.
This coastline features innumerable rocks and sea stacks, as the ocean gradually erodes softer rocks, leaving harder rocks stranded offshore. Part of the challenge in photographing these scenes is figuring out where to stand in order to arrange those rocks in a compelling way within the frame.
Another challenge is dealing with the constant movement of the ocean. In addition to the usual landscape-photography variables of weather and light, the tides, wave heights, and wave direction also have a big influence on how a scene looks.
That movement makes shutter speeds more important than with many other landscape subjects, so I’m constantly experimenting with different exposure times in every situation. I often prefer very long exposures (usually requiring strong neutral-density filters) to smooth out the water and add an ethereal look to the photograph. But sometimes a faster shutter speed seems to work better.
Shutter speeds, filters, and camera positions are just part of the photographer’s toolkit, like light, colors, tones, lines, shapes, subjects, timing, and overall composition. Ultimately I’m trying to use all tools at my disposal to capture a little bit of what it feels like to stand along this wild, rugged, rocky coast, watching the waves roll in, hearing the surf, and smelling the salty air.
— Michael Frye
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.