Sonoma Coast Sunset Photo, Model Heather Carden, Photography Workshop

Heather, Sonoma Coast Sunset

Photography Workshop In California


Camera: Olympus OM-D, E-M1
Lens: Olympus Zuiko 75mm f/1.8
Aperture: f/8
Focal Length: 150mm effective
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 200
Camera Mode: Manual
White Balance: 6000K
Lighting: Hensel Porty Premium 1200ws with Chimera three-foot OctaPlus light modifier


We just wrapped up another photography workshop, this time in the Sonoma Coast area of California and on the first day, the weather finally broke in time to provide us with a great sunset—something I couldn’t pass up. At the request of one of the photographers I jumped in, grabbed about a dozen shots of Heather, this photo being one of my favorites of that evening.

The Story Behind The Photo

Sonoma Coast Photography Workshop Photo, Heather Carden

Here is a full-length photo from that series of the featured Sonoma Coast sunset photo of Heather.

The Background
My photography has taken me to 44 countries plus most of the U.S. states in the past four decades, but for reasons unknown, I’ve never made it to the Sonoma Coast of California until this past weekend for one of our photography workshops. As much as I like to spread the gospel of photography, I’m not sure why it took me so long to get there, but I do know I’m going back in 2016 for an Americano Dream VIP Photography Adventure.

This past weekend was one of our rare “two-day” photography workshops as our norm in the U.S. are one-day “regional” workshops and our more exotic workshops in places like Aruba, Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, Costa Rica, Maui, etc., can last five days. Even our Moab photo workshops are three days of shooting and other than once a year in Las Vegas, two-day workshops are not the norm.

In fact Heather and I had literally just returned home from a Las Vegas two-day workshop and just as our body clocks had started to readjust three hours plus on Eastern Time, we were going back in time three hours that Friday morning as we drove to the airport for our trip to Sonoma. We were so excited to leave the Indiana cold of 39 degrees Fahrenheit as we boarded our plane for our first connection to San Francisco.

We landed in Frisco early morning just before 11 a.m. where we met our Polish friend “Witek” who had done many of our workshops before, from Maui to the Virgin Islands—he was our ride to the Sonoma Coast. We all three joked about how the windy roads of California State Road 1 (aka, PCH, Pacific Coast Highway) reminded us of the road to Hana in Maui. Little did we know, a little over two hours later when we arrived at the Fort Ross Lodge, 12-miles north of Jenner, that this part of California is very limited, if any, with cell phone reception, and access to the Internet is so limited I was missing the old direct dial 2400-baud modem.

Goat Rock, California, Photo Workshop

This ideal spot on the Sonoma Coast is just south of “Goat Rock” in the area of Jenner, California.

When we arrived at the Fort Ross Lodge we where thankful our room had a fireplace, as it was now windy, wet and cold—so much for leaving the Indiana cold weather behind. The next morning was no different in the Sonoma Coast area, wet and cold, just plain brrrrr. Our poor models, Jordan, Katherine and Heather, were giving me looks like, “don’t even ask us to get in our swimwear,” but they eventually would in the first part of our shooting just north of Goat Rock, deep in the heart of the extremely small town of Jenner.

The gals were tough that morning, but fortunately as the day progressed, the weather began to clear and the temperature rose, then we wrapped it up as the light began to turn harsh. We went back to Fort Ross where the models would freshen up, grab some new outfits then we headed north were we had lunch at the Ocean Cove Bar and Grill. Afterwards we drove back south a few miles and parked in an area called Still Water Cove where we then hiked down to the beach.

The photographers were divided into teams of two and paired with one model as the shooting began. At that time I didn’t feel the light was just right so we used the “overpower the sun with flash” technique, though at one point I explained to the photographers about the “light” I prefer and how to find it when it comes to sunset shoots as explained in The Challenges section below.

Sonoma Coast Photography Workshop Behind the Scenes

Sheng holds the Chimera 3-foot OctaPlus attached to a Hensel Porty Premium battery-pack studio flash system. We both took turns, holding the light for each other.

Just before that light finally hit, Vincent, one of the local area photographers, had to leave early for a prior commitment so I wound up helping his teammate Sheng. When the light I prefer appeared, I pointed it out to him, set the Hensel Porty Premium power pack to the right flash output and became the light stand holding the Hensel flash head fitted with the Chimera three-foot Octabox so he could capture his photos. Sheng was extremely happy and asked me to shoot so he could see how I capture my images. I shot about a dozen including the featured photo here as he held the light source.

By the time we wrapped up that evening, we were all worn out, headed back to Fort Ross, then were off the next morning to the other side of Goat Rock for our morning shoot. While it was a bit windy, it was dry and warmer, and everyone had fun capturing more great moments in the Sonoma Coast area.

We’re going back to the Sonoma Coast in 2016, but this time we’re timing it with the grape harvest to add a “photo walk” in the vineyards and a winery, plus a shoot at an old historic saw mill on top of our beach shooting locations—we hope to see you there!

The Challenges
The first challenge was once again fatigue for Heather and I as we literally were back on the road from our recent two-day workshop in Las Vegas and now back off to the Sonoma Coast. Our body clocks had went from a minus-three hours on the previous Friday, back to plus-three hours late Monday night, then back to minus-three hours the Friday we arrived in California. Now we’re back to plus-three hours, or Eastern Time, as I write this blog post.

Heather and I overcame the fatigue plus the cold weather we faced early on in the Sonoma Coast. We both love it when people say, “It must be nice to travel, all that fun!” Well it’s work too as the best photos rarely come easy. It’s taken us days, especially after flying the red-eye home, to recover.

Another challenge for locations like Sonoma and Moab is that you will do some walking, a little hiking, while models drag their outfit change bags, photographers drag their gear and in my case this included not only my camera, but my portable Hensel Porty Premium battery pack, cables, spare battery, and Chimera Octa box as my light modifier. We also brought along a California Sunbounce—thank goodness the Sunbounce reflector and my mirrorless camera system is lightweight.

While analyzing the light I demonstrated to the photographers an old boaters’ trick where I hold my hand out, fully extended, in front of me and place my little finger where the sky meets the water on the horizon line. While it will vary with the size of your hand, each one of my fingers indicate 15-minutes of light so when the sun circle hits my top finger I know I have about an hour, or the Golden Hour of light left before the sun fully sets. My preferred shooting is to start when the sun hits the second, or middle finger, and those next thirty minutes of light when it comes to the sunsets. Basically the place on my hand left empty if you do the “hook-em horns” gesture is where the sunlight is at it’s best for thirty minutes.

While it’s OK to shoot before the Golden Hour, you then have to overpower the sun with flash to help keep your sky from fading out. The intensity of the sun is less on that third finger and while we’re still overpowering the sun with flash, we don’t need the full power of the battery pack, not to mention this sweeter light period allows you to shoot at a lower aperture instead of worrying about the Sunny 16 Rule and higher apertures before the sun hits that prime hour.

One challenge to keep in mind, the sun is behind your model, so in the case of this photo of Heather, I used her body to block the ball of sun, thus no lens flare and gorgeous highlighting of her hair. It’s also difficult to focus as your model appears as a silhouette through the viewfinder, though my Olympus OM-D, E-M1 locked on just fine with it’s facial recognition, eye-tracking focus option.

Another challenge we had were onlookers—we just ignore them which is always the best thing to do, though luckily for us, there weren’t many and they were friendly enough to leave us be.

The Safety
The Sonoma Coast is an interesting part of California and though we had brought warm clothes, we ensured our models had enough water to drink along with rest breaks—this is important when you are shooting in locations that can challenge a person. We never lose sight of safety first, especially with the steep cliffs of the Sonoma Coast.

While our models didn’t venture out into the cold Pacific waters, they did get splashed a bit. When working with an ocean, one must always be aware of undercurrents, undertows, rogue waves, and in this case, the water temperature. Always bring a towel and or a spare change of clothes plus keep your model no closer than the water’s edge.

In all of our photography workshops, adventures and shoots, we take every safety precaution and I encourage any photographer in any situation to do the same, make safety first.


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