Snowy Egret, Tijuana River National Estuary, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
A distant Snowy Egret feeds in the vast marshes of this bird reserve. The bullfighting ring in Tijuana, Mexico, can be seen in the background. My long telephoto lens, set at 350mm, makes the bullfighting ring seem fairly close, yet Tijuana is five miles south of Imperial Beach. This image incongruously contrasts two diametrically opposed subjects – on one hand, man’s protection of wildlife, and on the other hand, the ritualized spectacle of bullfighting, which usually ends with the killing of a bull.
Green Heron, Tijuana River National Estuary, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
I found what appears to be Green Heron (which sometimes has a messy hair-day such as this one) standing next to a meandering creek in the marshes of this vast bird reserve. It never moved from this position while I was there, as it intently waited for any motion in the creek that might reveal the presence of a meal. I place the bird in the lower right hand corner of the image, and allowed the creek to form an s-curve that carries both the creek and the eye through the lush and swampy marsh from corner to corner. The heron’s long, sharp beak points to the initial flow of water through this image.
Patrolling pigeon, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
Along with flocks of seagulls, pigeons are the most plentiful flying creatures in Imperial Beach. They regularly patrol the beaches, looking for edible morsels left by visitors. This portion of the beach was relatively deserted when I made this photo. Its only occupant is this pigeon, incongruously standing within a tire track left by a lifeguard vehicle. The day is still young, and those tire tracks lead the eye across an empty beach to a pair of empty lifeguard stations in the misty background.
Good tidings, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
By walking out on the town’s pier, and shooting straight down on this feeding shore bird, I was able to find a vantage point that stressed an overhead view of the incoming tide as it reached the limit of its run to the beach. This bird, probably a Marbled Godwit, had just grabbed a tiny piece of food in the end of its beak. I place that beak against the foamy white tide, and the morsel becomes instantly visible. The resulting shadows (one black, the other blue) on both sand and foam add a sense of dimensionality to the image. I made this photo just as the bird took a step forward – its raised foot echoes the thrust of its lunging beak.
Marbled Godwits, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
I caught these godwits as they moved towards me, a churning sea at their backs. This environmental group shot arrests both the movement of the birds as well as the high surf that thunders towards us in the background. It is a portrait of a nature itself, pitting the fragile nature of the birds against the massive force of the sea. I used a long 350mm telephoto focal length to make the birds as large as I could and bring the sea as close to them as possible.
Stormy waters, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
Three Black Skimmers sweep above a massive wave at dusk, on the hunt for evening prey. They fly low over the water with their bills open, and their lower mandibles slicing the surface. When the lower part of the bill touches a fish, the upper part instantly snaps down to catch it. I made this image with a long telephoto lens (350mm) from the town pier at a very fast shutter speed of one two-thousandth of a second. This fast shutter speed allowed me to freeze the plume of spray at the top of the big wave, as well as stop the skimmers in flight. I advanced the light sensitivity of my sensor to ISO 6400, which allowed me to use the very fast shutter speed as well stressing the granular texture on the surface of the wave. These waves would be the largest and angriest I saw during my month in Imperial Beach. They were caused by a hurricane over Mexican waters.
Cormorant, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
This lone Cormorant, perched at the end of a rocky breakwater just off the beach, looks out on turbulent waters, yet a setting sun casts an ethereal golden glow on the rocks just behind it. The foreground rocks fall into deep shadow and soft focus, while the ocean behind the bird is also in soft focus. Cormorants will dive for fish, catching them in their bills under water. They are often perch on rocky places such as this to dry their wings. The setting is warm in color and tone, yet there is also considerable scale incongruity in this image – the bird seems quite small in comparison to the vast sea behind it.
Wings, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
This wideangle sunset photo features far more than the glow of the setting sun itself. I had been tracking the movement of the winged-like cloud for about ten minutes or so. The cloud eventually merged with the sun, just as a seagull soared into my frame. I was able to make the gull’s outspread wings echo the shape of the winged cloud -- two completely different natural forms in complete synch with each other.
Golden fury, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
Although these waves come at us in a massive display of flying surf, the sunset creates a backlighting effect that allows me to make an image illuminating both the spray and the shape of the surging sea within a translucent golden glow. This photograph incongruously and simultaneously pairs nature’s fury with nature’s beauty in a setting worth remembering. I later learned that these waves were caused by a distant hurricane churning through the ocean off the Mexican coast.
Gathering at sunset, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
Using my spot-metering mode to expose this image for the sunset, I abstract the rest of it, turning the six people into silhouettes. In doing so, I bring them together in what appears to be a symbolic “family gathering” at water’s edge as the day ends. It is an expressive image that shows less and says more. Actually, the three tallest people in this shot are young men walking towards us, while the two figures at right are walking behind a child in the background. If I had metered on the people, instead on of the sunset, the sky would have been washed out, and the “family” would fragment into two unrelated threesomes that happened to accidentally merge into a single group. This image underscores both the importance of selective exposure and the power of abstraction to express ideas.
San Diego Bay at dusk, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
The downtown skyline of San Diego, which is 14 miles south of Imperial Beach, seems to echo the strip of reflective water that outlines the outgoing tide. The reflective water, running diagonally across the frame, reflects pink light. The distant buildings, preceded by a strand of glowing lights, are silhouetted against a pink sky. The entire image is cloaked in dusky colors as night falls. The spacing between the people in the foreground draws the eye into the frame. The couple on the right walk away from us – they look towards the skyline in the distance. Three other figures also carry the action forward – a body surfer at play in the water, a man walking in the wet sand, and another carrying a belly-board, all link the foreground to the background here. Four additional tiny figures fill in the near background, taking the eye to a pair of breakwaters. The horizontal thrusts of these jetties echo the flow of the horizontal skyline.
Last light, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
A huge gold and pink cloud floats diagonally over the hotels and condos of Imperial Beach at dusk. Shooting from the town pier, I use a 24mm wideangle focal length to not only include the sky and cloud, but also embrace the diagonal flow of surf that moves through the shadows in the lower half of the frame. These diagonals converge on the horizontal shoreline, completing the composition. I made this image after sunset, and used my spot-metering mode to expose for the brightest spot in the picture – the highlights in the cloud. The rest of the image falls into dusky shadow, emphasizing the pink reflection of the cloud on the water.