Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

December 11, 2015

Sea Cave, El Matador State Beach, California #1

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Film Technique,Large Format Photography — John Siskin @ 1:00 pm

Sea Cave, El Matador State Beach, California #1

El Matador is my favorite beach. Many of the beaches around Los Angeles are large stretches of sand, good for surfing, or just lying in the sand, but not so interesting to photograph. El Matador has wonderful rocks and even caves. Of course I’m not the only one who likes El Matador: there are always photographers at El Matador. As you may guess from the title I’ve made several more images at El Matador: I’ll be posting them soon.

This photograph has been in several exhibits, and it was on display at the Huntington Library for years.

I wrote about the 65mm Super Angulon in my last post ( and this is another shot I made with that lens. The lens is an extreme wide angle, equivalent to about an 18mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera. So the way the lens sees is very different from our normal perception. Since the lens is so close to the subject, in this case the camera is just above the water and inches away from the rocks in the image, the depth and shape of the subject is exaggerated. Wide-angle lenses show exaggerated perspective because of the position they are used in rather than because the lens actually distorts the subject. While this effect can be disconcerting in some architectural subjects it works very well here.

The lens is focused close to the camera, which is important with extreme wide-angle lenses in large format work. The aperture is at f22 to maintain focus through out the image. Since the cave is dark, and the aperture is set to such a small stop the exposure is long, several seconds. This evens out the movement of the water, which creates both transparent and fog effects with the moving water. Because of the lens and the long exposure it’s impossible to actually see the image as you take it. I have to internally visualize the image I want to make and use the camera to create that visualized image. It’s important to use pre-visualization even with a digital camera, otherwise you’re just recording the scene; pre-visualization enables you to interpret the image. This skill enables photographers to make images rather than just take pictures.

I really love working with wide-angle lenses. I use them a lot. Any extreme wide-angle lens creates challenges and opportunities for the photographer. This lens has a maximum aperture (wide open) of f8, so it’s quite dark. In addition it requires the lens to be very close to the film, which can make it difficult to manipulate the camera. It’s even important to arrange the camera so that the front of the camera isn’t in the picture. So the whole process of positioning the camera and visualizing the image was a challenge here, not to mention the fact that the cave is actually quite small. As with so many film shots, it was really exciting to see a good negative!

As with the last image I posted Union Station, Los Angeles #1, I’m offering this image at a special price until the end of the year, just $95. This price is for an archival digital print, mounted and matted on 16X20 cotton rag board. The image area is 11X14 inches. Shipping in the U.S. is included, if you’d like me to ship somewhere else please contact me at

This image, and many others, is also available in my book B-Four. You can look at the book at this link, and order it as well. I hope you’ll take a look at the book.

You can buy one of my other books by clicking on the titles below:

I’m going to be using my blog to add information about images to the fine art pages of my site. This part of the site isn’t functioning yet, but it will be. These posts will enable me to put up information about the shot and to add details about buying prints. I think it’s very useful to talk about the details of creating specific images. I hope to hear from you about this-use my e-mail to let me know: Of course I hope you’ll also want to buy some prints. I’ll be offering more types of prints in the future.

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