A Weekend in Monterey, CA

Mary and I spent a very short weekend in Monterey in September exploring the Point Lobos Reserve and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  There is a lot to do in this area and we barely scratched the surface.  For a more comprehensive itinerary, we recommend Bob Hitchman’s newsletter.  We had been to Monterey once previously, but before we became photographers.  Here are a few tips and suggestions about getting the best photographs in a couple of tough situations.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve Park

This is a terrific small state park just south of Monterey.  Unfortunately, they keep bankers’ hours, so you can not get in early for sunrise or stay late for sunset.  It is very beautiful, nonetheless.  There are several big trail loops.  We explored a couple of them.  We went once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  Both times, we were fogged in at best and had ugly gray skies at worst.  Use this website to plan your day.

Point Lobos - Bluefish Cove

The big attraction is the rugged coastline, the gnarled trees, and a few animals like seals, sea otters, and birds.  Being that we are still learning to photograph animals, we spent some time on the sea otters, but concentrated most of our time on the coastline shots and trees.


Point Lobos – Mary near Granite Point

Because many of these landscape shots include the sky, sea, and some foreground, I highly recommend, you have a graduated neutral density filter.  As always, I recommend a sturdy tripod.  Some of the exposures can be tough with gray skies and or bright sun.  Also, a polarizer is necessary to decrease the glare, if any, off of the water.  Lastly, I used my 9 stop filter to make several images where I could make the water silky even in the middle of the day.  There is a bit of hiking from the parking lots, so good shoes, but not boots are recommended.  I think Granite Point was our favorite.

Point Lobos - near Pinnacle Cove

The Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo

As part of our project to photograph all twenty-one California missions, we visited the Carmel Mission.  This one has a very nice front courtyard, a pretty façade, good interior and a very large and beautiful back courtyard.  This one also has the grave site of Father Serra.  I would recommend you plan on 1.5 – 2 hours here.  Take a look at our two other blogs about photographing the California Missions.

Infrared of bell tower from the inside courtyard

The Monterey Bay Aquarium

The highlight of our trip was an afternoon at the Aquarium.  Even thought it was brutally crowded, there was so much to see, do, and photograph.  The lighting conditions are really tough and you need to plan for it.  It is dark almost every where you go and flash does not work because you are almost always shooting into a glass wall.  If you are using your DSLR, you need to use image stabilization and increase your ISO as high as you are comfortable with (800-3200) in order to get a fast shutter speed. You do not need a lot of depth of field so a large aperture like 4.0 or 5.6 helps too.  If you are using a point and shoot, look for a “museum” setting for best results, or use a sports setting with the flash turned off.  You will not be able to use a tripod or monopod.

Lastly, there will be many people crowding around you to make their photos and most will be using flash inappropriately.   Try to compose your photo away from these flashes, though sometimes I got an indirect light that was helpful.  Most people are in a rush to see everything, so I used a lot of patience and just waited for the people to move on so I could get up front and concentrate on composing a good photo.  Mary and I probably spent a good 30 minutes just at the jelly fish tanks trying to get a good composition and good exposure.

Don’t forget to go outside and make some photos of the animals that might be out there, or even some natural abstracts of seaweed and rocks.  Once again, Mary is quite adept at seeing the possibility of abstracts in the shape and movement of nature. I love what she has done with the seaweed here.

Seaweed Abstract

We had a final sunset shoot and went on the 17 mile drive.  Frankly, I did not see anything of interest on the 17 mile drive except for the Lone Cypress tree.  It is probably the most photographed tree on earth, but you have to get one shot for yourself.  We did not have particularly good light, so we made HDR (high dynamic range composites) and black and whites.  Our sunset was OK, but nothing spectacular.

The Lone Cypress

There is so much more to do in Monterey and we will definitely be returning.  There are great spots for photography driving north and south on Highway 1.  To see more of our photos, please go to www.pamphotography.com.

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