Inspiration at Santa Cruz Harbor

Today’s forecast called for mostly cloudy, high tide, rotten surf, and a rain storm.



The clouds have been creating the conditions for bright red sunrises and sunsets. Sunrise has been moving at a southerly angle that lends itself to nice compositions. I decided to try some new ideas with a subject that I consider “done to death” — The Walton Lighthouse at Santa Cruz Harbor.

I’ve been struggling for inspiration recently, so I thought it might be a good idea to revisit some subjects that I’ve done before. I had two ideas in particular. The first idea was a long exposure of the harbor at high tide with the rocks of the jetty partially submerged. And another with the sunrise more or less lining up with the lighthouse and the path as leading lines.

The long exposure here was a new idea for me here. This is a blend of 2 images for sky and foreground. The foreground exposure is around 6 seconds and I used a 3 stop neutral density filter. The water gets more calm here anyway, it’s a harbor after all right? I combined what I knew about the lighting conditions, the weather, and the tide report to pre-visualize this scene. I’m very happy with the results.

Long exposure at Santa Cruz Harbor — composition idea #1

A lot of effort went into the image in post production. It’s shot at 17mm so there was some lens distortion to be expected. This needed a little more work since the lighthouse is at the right side and was prone to more distortion. Blending exposures can be easy with some tools but this time my typical workflow wasn’t quite doing it. I needed to get creative with masks, then luminosity masks for selective editing and sharpening. The “lighthouse” (it’s really a nice looking cover for a light on a tall pole) is painted white. That thing reflects whatever dominant color is in the ambient light — and in my initial work that guy was a bright pink. Toning that down took more work than I imagined.

Leading Lines and sunburst  at Santa Cruz Harbor — composition idea #2 Available at

The second composition is something similar to what you’re likely to see occasionally from other local and visiting photographers. The path along the jetty creates perfect leading lines to the main subject. I chose to setup very low and shoot while the sun poked up over the hills in the distance. Usually I don’t want to shoot directly into the sun because of the lens flares but this time I went with it. After all, I’m looking to try new ideas so why not incorporate the lens flare? OK, that lens flare includes some dust that’s managed to stick inside my lens. Some day I’ll look into updating it with something new, but not yet.

Both photographs are available on my sales site — which might help me pay for that fancy schmancy new Canon 16-35mm. You want to help me acquire this don’t you? Sure you do.

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