Tag Archives: Santa Cruz

Street Photography In Santa Cruz

I live in an area that’s been called “absurdly rural” by a Sunset Magazine travel journalist . As you can imagine that means that I don’t do much street photography in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Oh, it’s happened, but it’s a little weird when just about everybody knows you and you’re going to run into them at the one gas station. I occasionally bring my camera with me when my daughter and I sneak out for our weekly coffee adventures. The girl just loves gourmet coffee and this is my opportunity to bring her to my favorite places. Today we wandered around downtown Santa Cruz. Oh and Santa Cruz… did we really need yet another Starbucks? You know… the one down the street from that other Starbucks and across from the newly opened independent coffee shop?

I’m looking for people interacting. We’re an especially colorful community, so interaction has a little more going on. Sometimes it’s just pizza.

Sometimes that interaction with between the subject… and the subject. Here I was intrigued by the high key lighting by a tent at an art fair.

Urban scenes are great for lines, patterns, and repetition. Photographers photographing photographers is always a fun subject for me. And a little interaction with the primary subject is ideal. One thing I want to avoid is yet another photo of a person messing with his phone.

Then there are moments of silliness. I saw this little note saying “Yes touch!” OK, your wish is my command. I may have misunderstood though.

The photo below has a lot of elements I like: bright colors and patterns for example. I also quite like that a man was parking his Prius near a parking meter in the frame.

West Side Street Scene

These are the kinds of images that move me, but it’s not just a snapshot. I have lived in coastal areas almost all of my life. The kinds of images that you see in Endless Summer, Surfer Magazine, or half of the travel magazines out there have been the things I see around me almost every day. To me, this isn’t “surf photography” it’s just photography. There’s not a lot of money to be made in this genre, but it’s my favorite topic to shoot and share.


This particular image is one that you’d think would be a simple snapshot — a street scene in a beach town. You’d be close, but it’s not that simple. I was shooting surf near Indicators on the west side of Santa Cruz, California and I had my longer telephoto mounted. A friend of mine was surfing and the light on her was spectacular. I turned around and these other two beautiful girls were walking back  to Steamer Lane. This is exactly the kind of scene that I love the most: people experiencing — living — the coastal lifestyle together. I can’t pass these moments up.

So here’s my situation: The closest focal length I can use is now 150mm. To frame up the photo with the gear I have ready I have to move, and move fast. I’m setup for surf at 500mm in somewhat ambient light. I’m also setup for fairly high ISO and a rapid burst of frames (my Canon 7d Mk II will get around 10 shots per second in RAW depending on the speed of the cards used) . Now I have to adjust to this moving subject that’s lit from the side. I had to jog backwards setup my monopod again, frame the shot and go. (In non-photographer jargon that means that I was setup to shoot serious distance with a pro camera designed for sports. To get them setup the way I wanted I had to plan quickly.)

Editing was a little more involved and I needed to put a lot of thought into it. There was distracting cruft to the left and to the right, so a bit of cropping was needed. I like to bring out detail in the dark wetsuits, so I masked them and brought up the shadows selectively in Lightroom. The general ambiance was warmed some, noise toned down, then the girls were sharpened. Other smaller distractions were removed in Photoshop in one last sweep.

Could I have just gone with the shot as it happened? Maybe, but I’m not looking for snapshots. I want to make art. Why spend the time on a photo that I’m positive won’t have any return on the investment? The same reason I studied Art instead of Computer Science. I wanted to.

Photos that I keep working on

Shark Fin Cove Long Exposure

Some photographs I keep working on. I’ve mentioned before that I consider this a very tricky spot to photograph. I look for a combination of things otherwise I don’t even unpack my camera. The main feature, the big “shark fin” sea stack, needs to be reasonably well lit. It’s going to get the most dramatic light towards sunset. Since it’s in this cove the sun needs to be setting a bit to the south, which means our fall and winter season. There also needs to be something interesting in the sky otherwise the scene has little drama. I’m not interested in making a snapshot. I want to make something that evokes an emotion.

Shark Fin Cove Long Exposure work in progress
Shark Fin Cove Long Exposure work in progress

For this one I decided to go with a long exposure approach and HDR (3 exposures blended). It’s almost there. Almost. I’m not a big fan of HDR. Honestly I think it’s overused to the point of being a crutch. I would rather get it right in one shot. Sometimes it is a useful tool to get the dynamic range needed to bring out all the lights and darks that I want to convey.

3 brackets used
3 brackets used


This isn’t one that I consider “done”. I definitely would not use it in my portfolio or submit it for a formal critique. But it’s a point of departure; a photo that you wrap up one day and come back the next and keep going. You identify the things that bother you about it — and you be specific. Then you go about addressing those issues. Here are a few things that I’ll be addressing in future revisions of this photo:

  • There’s a slight change in brightness around the edges of the cliffs. Usually this is “ghosting” as a result of the HDR process. It’s minor, but I see it.ghosting
  • The sky is a little muddy looking to me, like there’s a little extra blue in the upper right
  • Oh I’d sure love some more brilliance in the reds under those clouds
  • There may be a bit of a green color cast. My favorite Sigma wide angle seems to lean that way. It’s great for landscape, but I don’t like using this lens for portraits.
Sean M's favorite camera
My Sigma 17-50mm on my Canon 7d Mark II

The list goes on but these are the things that I think about the day I come back to a photo. It’s not bad as such, but it’s not done either. In the end I’ll probably go back to one of the middle-exposure brackets and work with it instead of blending.

My point? Honesty. If you’re not honest with yourself then who can you be honest with? Yes, some things you need to decide are done and move on. Otherwise you’d never finish right? But you need to learn from each experience in order to improve.