I was in Sonoma County to zipline at Sonoma Canopy Tours and decided to extend the trip with an excursion to Fort Ross, the Russian settlement along the California coast.
First, Sonoma Canopy Tours allows guests to bring a camera, including a DSLR. Make sure you have a secure camera strap with sufficient reach since your camera will be strapped to the harness at chest level. I was using a 24-70 mm lens, though a 28-300 mm would have given me more options for the longer runs. The big challenge is the lighting. Even early in the morning, the light was quite harsh with most photos featuring a mix of shadows and strong day light.
Sonoma Canopy Tours is located in Occidental, California. If you are heading their way, you might want to download your maps in advance for offline use. From Sonoma Canopy Tours to Fort Ross, I had one bar at best, with most of the journey spent with no data connection. No maps. No Yelp. It felt like time travel because I had to ask for directions and dining recommendations.
Fort Ross was an interesting detour. It was perfect for a side trip. The visitor center offered an exhibit on the history of Fort Ross, and a short walk led to the enclosed grounds of the settlement. There are a few sparsely furnished buildings that could hold your attention for an hour or so.
The real treat was the Sonoma County coastline. The first photo was taken at Duncan’s Cove at the Sonoma Coast State Park. The coast was magnificent that afternoon with blue skies, clear aquamarine waters, and strong surf crashing against the sea rocks.
In the weeks before the solar eclipse, I practiced taking photos of the sun. The first question was whether to use a telescope or a camera lens. While the telescope provided greater magnification, it was incredibly difficult to target the sun for two reasons. First, the solar filter rendered everything except the sun as pitch black. Without any contextual background, I had no idea whether the telescope was pointed too far left, right, up or down. The second issue was that the finder could not be used. Obviously, I could not look directly at the sun through the finder. Additionally, if I wore solar glasses, I couldn’t even see the telescope. Eventually, I was able to target the sun by looking at the direction of the shadows cast on the telescope.
However, this approach was too unreliable so I resorted to using a wider camera lens for the big day.
I was a bit late in preparing for the 2017 solar eclipse. I didn’t start shopping until a few weeks before the event, and at that point many retailers were already out of stock on solar filters and glasses. Fortunately, I was able to purchase a BAADER solar filter and solar glasses in time.
Since Northern California was outside the path of totality, some of the more exciting photographic opportunities were not available. The more pressing issue was the persistent morning cloud cover. I started noticing this about two weeks before the eclipse, and really got worried as the pattern repeated each passing morning.
The night before, I was looking at weather reports on ClearDarkSky. I was also scouting locations on the PhotoPills, which showed the direction of the sun during the critical morning hours. I had a couple locations in mind, but headed south to Shoreline Lake in Mountain View after some morning recon. The sky looked the clearest and brightest in that direction.
While a telescope would provide the greatest degree of magnification, I opted for a long camera lens and a 2x teleconverter. During the week before the eclipse, I practiced photographing the sun with a solar filter. Trying to find the sun with the telescope was exceedingly difficult because only the sun was visible through the solar filter. Everything else was black. With the wider camera lens, the process was much more forgiving.
So, on the morning of the eclipse, the sky was severely overcast. As I recall, Mountain View was supposed to have 60% cloud cover at 9 a.m when the eclipse started. I could see the sun for a few seconds as the clouds traveled through. The clouds did eventually clear as predicted, and I was able to see the entire second half of the eclipse.
San Francisco was a touch hazy, and all too drab. That’s what happens when the skies above are absolutely overcast. The wonderful dehaze function helped. However, what really recovered the city colors was adjusting the RGB levels. Works wonders when fixing old photos that have shifted orange. Tried it here and it worked as well.
Of course, 1/250s is not the standard shutter speed at 300mm. However, I was using a tripod with a shutter release.
From Seal Point Park in San Mateo, I had a relatively clear view of San Francisco that was free of rain and fog. Usually, from this vantage point, I will focus on the planes flying over the San Mateo Bridge and landing at San Francisco airport.
However, I spotted Sutro Tower off in the distance and wanted to see how well the lens performed. This lens is certainly capable of producing crisp images, but the Sutro Tower located almost 20 miles away proved to be quite challenging. The mountain range behind Sutro Tower is Mount Tamalpais.
When I arrived at Morro Bay, not too many people were around. I headed straight to the water’s edge and found an unobstructed view of Morro Rock. Around the harbor, I could hear the morning chatter coming from the birds and sea lions that called Morro Bay home.
I was excited to see the sliver of blue sky emerging from behind Morro Rock. However, the promise of good weather did not materialize as the sky darkened later in the day and turned light sprinkles into pouring rain.
Tried a new location along the coast to catch planes descending into San Francisco airport. However, along this stretch, overhead power lines mar the view. I’ll have to revisit and try some different subjects and angles.