Big Waves II

NOTE:  You can click on some of these photos to see them enlarged.

A few weeks ago I posted some photos of some large surf along Sunset Cliffs.  Yesterday I was at the Ocean Beach Pier with Cynthia Sinclair and Mike Uriel at high tide.  The tide was 6.3 ft above normal and weather conditions out to sea, spawned by El Nino, had further assaulted that water to create very high waves.  Lee Peterson was going to join us but he got waylaid shooting the big water coming on over the Casa Sea Wall in La Jolla and never made it.  You can see his photos on http://www.photographyinparadise.com.  Too bad, it was pretty exciting to see these (for San Diego) giant waves pound this famous pier.

To give you non-Californians an idea of the scene, here is a shot of most of the pier showing its famous “swayback” and a wave scraping along the bottom of the structure.  This was shot with a Canon 24mm tilt-shift lens.  All of my other shots were taken with my Sigma 50-500mm so-called “Bigma” lens.

The Ocean Beach Pier shot with Canon 24mm Tilt Shift lens.

The Ocean Beach Pier shot with Canon 24mm Tilt Shift lens.  As another waves forms the water is drawn back from the shore but it was coming all the way in to where it was splashing against the sea wall.  I had almost gone down onto the beach to shoot but if I had, as the tide continued to rise I would have been knee deep in water.

The original design called for the pier to slightly angle down from the cliff face, where it actually starts out, to the “T” at the end.  But apparently the engineering was not up to the task.  Various stories abound as to the actual cause ranging from a screw up in the initial angle to a construction screw up vis-a-vis the size and positioning of the pilings.  My favorite, however, was that in order to avoid penalties the company that built it tried to convince the city that it was actually an optical illusion…  Now c’mon, admit it, THAT is creative.

I have to be honest here, this is not my first love of topics and subjects.  I came to realize that during this shoot.  Yes, I found the event interesting to watch but visually and emotionally for me it is just splashing water.  Lee has been around and in the ocean pretty much his whole life.  He served on fishing boats and then used and made surfboards, not to mention years as an underwater photographer.  He “gets it” and also the stories behind the scenes; it resonates deep down inside him.  He is able to anticipate the wave action and time his shots accordingly.  I, on the other hand, have no clue and it is largely “candid” event shooting for me which I claim zero skill at doing.

It is the mountains and forests that resonate with me.  Now when I was in New England in the ’60s, the north Atlantic off the coasts of New England, especially Massachusetts and Maine, was like a living, breathing somewhat malevolent behemoth that ceaselessly prowled the area just looking for hapless adventurers to lure into its clutches.  But except for special conditions, the Pacific along the southern California coast is, by comparison, just the shore of a gigantic lake that just happens to go all the way to Japan.

At special times, I admit, it can produce stunning sunset shots that I am drawn to and I love the mists and fogs of the dramatic interface of sea and land along the mid and northern California and Oregon coasts.  But even in those cases, to me, the water is just an interesting supportive visual element in a shot that is actually about something else that DOES speak to me.  Sadly, given the opportunities here in San Diego, as far as a connection with the ocean itself, I am still such a land lubber that once out of sight of land, in those all too brief moments when I’m not leaning over the side feeding the little fishies, the endless expanses of water become alternating moments of unbelievable boredom and stark terror, neither of which I would seek out voluntarily.   I guess I’ve never had the need or motivation (or teacher) before.  But I digress…

Back at the OB pier, meanwhile, I admit that if the waves were topping the pier (as they sometimes do) and washing fishermen and tourists over the pier into the water THAT would have been exciting.  But really, to go out there if waves are crashing over it is just evidence that we need more chlorine in the gene pool.  Besides they close the pier in those conditions… weenies…

However, this was sufficiently interesting so that an army of photographers, including some news photographers, were on hand to catch the scene.

One surfer I watched tried to shoot through the pier on a ferocious wave and missed kissing a piling by inches.  I know, I know, in a miss situation an inch is as good as a mile.  But for me, the only reasonable response was… “more Chlorine please…”  Oh well…  As Mama Gump used to say, “Stupid is as stupid does!”  There is a huge difference between being brave and being foolhardy.

So, even if “splashing water” is all it is for me, then since I was there and had a camera, the question was, what could I do with it photographically?  Since school will be starting in a week or so it occurred to me I could perhaps do some examples for a motion assignment.  And since the close ups were basically blue and white (sky, grey concrete, water, and foam) this might be a good time to play with monochrome (for a digital class) and black and white conversions to show a B&W film class about tonalities.

The water was high enough to touch the bottom of the pier.  It sprayed up on the walkway but a wave never actually went over it while I was there.  However, here is the spray coming out as the huge volume of water in a wave is squeezed under the pier.

As the huge volumes of water in a wave is forced under the pier it squirts out in a powerful spray.

As the huge volumes of water in a wave is forced under the pier it squirts out in a powerful spray. That Cafe out on the pier, by the way, has some GREAT pancakes for breakfasts!

Here are some more details of the cauldron created by the interaction of water, ground, rocks, and pier.

Another tighter shot of the water as it is quezzed under the pier.

Another tighter shot of the water as it is squeezed under the pier.

Looking down through the pilings you can see that "tunnel" is filled with churning water. It was through that maelstrom that the surfer tried to shoot the pier. Brilliant... Not...

Looking down through the pilings you can see that “tunnel” is filled with churning water. It was through that maelstrom that the surfer tried to shoot the pier. Brilliant… Not…

Detail shot of a small wave, most of its energy spent further out, breaking against one of the pilings close to shore.

Detail shot of a small wave, most of its energy spent further out, breaking against one of the pilings close to shore.

Meantime, while I was playing around in Black and White from the sea wall, Cynthia went out on the pier itself to shot from the higher vantage point.  Here is a shot of her out on the pier shooting the surfers (she is in the red sweater in the center of the shot.)  She is in a pretty good position to photograph them from a lot of angles.

As the water shoots and sprays under the pier, Cynthia is photographing surfers trying to ride the foam. She is in the red sweater with the camera more or less in the top center of the shot.

As the water shoots and sprays under the pier, Cynthia is photographing surfers trying to ride the foam. She is in the red sweater with the camera more or less in the top center of the shot.  To understand the situation you need to see this pier under normal conditions where it is standing very high out of the water.

She was also, it turned out, in a great position to capture not only some stunning surfer shots (with some cool wipe outs) but also had a birds eye view of the cauldron at her feet.  With her kind permission, here are a few of her shots.  She, like Lee, really “gets” the ocean and in fact is one of the best ocean sailboat racing photographers out there.  I think these shots illustrate what I was saying by showing the work of someone to whom this environment really speaks.  They tell of the power and violence of these waves as well as any I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a lot of shots of and from this pier over the last 16 years.

lots of water gaining ground on this surfer about to see if he can surf the foam. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

lots of water gaining ground on this surfer about to see if he can surf the foam. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

I discovered while white water rafting that you can't swim in the foam but the surfer is trying it anyway. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

I discovered while white water rafting years ago that you can’t swim in the foam but the surfer is trying it anyway. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

Poor guy was not quite fast enough. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

Poor guy was not quite fast enough. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

And from another angle, the action is repeated... (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

And from another angle, the action is repeated… (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

... and again... (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

… and again…  Ocean: 20, Surfers: 0 at that point,  (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

 

If the light is just right a vibrant rainbow can form in the spray. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

If the light is just right a vibrant rainbow can form in the spray. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

To get a sense of the power of this water action, from her high viewing angle, you can sense the tons and tons of water crashing on on itself. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

To get a sense of the power of this water action, from her high viewing angle, you can sense the tons and tons of water crashing on on itself. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

The only problem with some of those shots is that they are not mine! But I wanted to use this forum to show some of her work.

I also caught the waves crashing against the sea wall to the south of the pier.  The waves here WERE often going over this wall and soaking the little courtyard area.

Just to the south of the pier is a courtyard surrounded by a sea wall. The waves were easily breaching the wall.

Just to the south of the pier is a courtyard surrounded by a sea wall. The waves were easily breaching the wall.

From her vantage point up on the pier, Cynthia could also see the waves attacking Sunset Cliffs to the south.

Looking south the high waves are again attacking the cliffs to the south, eroding them and inching ever closer to the megabuck homes along the cliffs. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

Looking south the high waves are again attacking the cliffs to the south, eroding them and inching ever closer to the megabuck homes along the cliffs. (c) Cynthia Sinclair 2016, used by permission

So, that was my Tuesday morning at OB. I really want to thank Cynthia for allowing me to show some of her photos from the morning’s shoot.

Now back to more Spring semester prep.  Oh for joy…!!!

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About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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