Friday, May 14, 2010

Thousand Steps

8 sec at f/16 and 18mm

Towards the end of the day on Wednesday there were some really cool clouds in the sky, it looked promising for a sunset. I checked the tide tables and saw that there was a really high tide right at sunset, the tide was just over 5 feet. When the tide is that high, there are a lot of places around Santa Barbara where the beach completely disappears and the waves crash against the cliffs. A fun side effect of this is that some of these beaches have stairs that lead down to them, and with that tide height the stairs lead straight into the waves.

There's a set of stairs nearby called Thousand Steps (it is a lot of steps, but the name is an exaggeration--there's nowhere close to a thousand) that I've been wanting to shoot under these conditions.

This was a nice quick trip; I already had a clear idea of the shot I wanted, and there weren't many other options to try. I got there, set up, took a handful of shots, and was out of there pretty quickly.

This was one of my first outings with my new tripod--Manfrotto 055XPROB legs with a PhotoClam PC-33NS ball head. I'll gush about this tripod more in another post, but I have to say the biggest benefit I'm finding with it is that it makes is much easier to compose my shots. I'm able to comfortably and patiently assess the composition and make fine adjustments to it. With my old, cheap tripod, I'd tend to give up a bit because of the painful difficulty of getting it positioned just right.

One of the things I've learned about recently, which was relevant on this outing, is the problem of "barrel distortion". I had read this term a number of times, but never bothered to look it up until recently. Barrel distortion is a problem with wide-angle lenses which causes the scene to bend slightly away from the center at the lens's widest angle.

This becomes a problem when you have a clean, straight horizon in your shot, as it will appear curved. The solution is to not shoot at the absolute widest angle of the lens if your scene has a strong horizon line.

I took my first photos at 18mm, my kit lens's shortest focal length. With the image preview on the back of my camera, I zoomed in and saw this curve on the horizon.

It's clearer when the horizon is right up against the frame.

Not so bad, really, but I ended up deciding on a square cropping of just the stairs anyway. I really liked the texture of the water in the first picture and wanted to bring the focus to that and the stairs.

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