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Cormorants on Bonita Cove Pier

Ever since rowing little Diva up to and under the Golden Gate Bridge a couple of months ago, there has been this image in my head that I’ve been struggling to figure out a way to capture. At the time I was getting sucked out into the ocean by the current in a little rowboat. The winds were howling at thirty knots bringing with it a brilliant pink fog and from the vantage point where I was clinging to life, you were treated with a scene of the old tidal station and a rock spire in the foreground with the bridge straddling this unbelievable pink and purple fog. It’s a scene that’s impossible to describe in words but I’ve sailed under that bridge a hundred times and never experienced anything like it. Of course I had no camera, which was a probably a good thing as I was donning nothing but trunks and a lifejacket fully expecting to be flipped, sunk, and drug out to sea. The most adrenaline pumping moment I’ve experienced in the last 20 years of sailing for sure.

Cormorants basking in the last minutes of sunlight on the Bonita Cove Pier (Hover over image to see original RAW file)

One of these days I’ll figure out a way to turn that image into more than a Kodak moment but for the time being I decided I’d stuff my bag full of camera gear and bike on out to the bridge and see what I could find. Well, the at the bridge itself there wasn’t a whole lot going on besides massive numbers of tourists. I wasn’t totally feeling the vibe so I kept on riding on a loop that wound up being the Marin Headlands Loop taking you out on a wonderfully scenic tour to the Point Bonita Lighthouse. 

I got there too late to visit the lighthouse, it was already closed, so just spent the evening sitting and watching the scene unfold with a camera in hand. I’m fascinated by a lot of things but old piers and pilings in particular I find exceptionally fascinating. Looking down from the hundred foot tall cliff you could see the remains of the old Bonita Cove Pier built in 1870 and Life Saving Station which was commissioned in 1899 to rescue shipwrecked sailors entering the bay from the northern channel. The station was decommissioned in 1966 and ever since has been left to rot and serve as home to basking cormorants and playground to the resident harbor seals.

I tried a lot of different ideas in terms of framing and exposure but was having trouble creating anything that did the experience justice. So I just sat and watched the seals frolic among the pilings while the fog would appear and disappear like magic, breathing in the fresh ocean air laced with the smell of wild fennel salt. A zen moment for sure. I’d ask myself why do I find it so peaceful here. What makes this place so special? To me it wasn’t any thing in particular that made it special but feeling of timelessness and isolation.

In relation to the pier, my initial images were zoomed in quite a bit more and the orientation of the pilings lacked direction and order. The pier was simply a grouping of pilings. It lacked context, lacked direction, lacked emotion. So I found another perch slightly off the beaten path that would give the pilings some order and direction. I took a step back and framed the scene with a looser composition allowing for a lot of negative space. The subject of the image could in fact be this negative space, the vastness of the sea and isolation of this location, the pier merely a contextual anchor.

The image as is would have been a decent snapshot but a little underwhelming. To add an element of timelessness and magic to the image I put a 10 stop neutral density filter on the lens which allowed me to take a 60 second exposure turning the water into glass like surface that without a horizon, might as well extend out forever. I tried the image with a polarizing filter as well, allowing you to cut the glare on the water and see the rocky features below the surface of the water, but I preferred the simplicity and minimalism of this image.

…And you’ve probably already noticed but if you hover over the image you can see the initial RAW file. I remember finding this feature really helpful when getting into photography and trying to develop a style of editing that worked for me. If you have any questions about my editing process, feel free to ask away!

Geoff