Natural Perspectives: A photographic tour of Surf City's varied scene

July 25, 2012|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • This snowy egret fishing at Bolsa Chica is an iconic image from Huntington Beach. There are many others, including the vibrant surfing and skateboarding scene.
This snowy egret fishing at Bolsa Chica is an iconic image… (LOU MURRAY, HB Independent )

While Vic was out on the ocean this past weekend, searching for pelagic birds on a trip with Sea and Sage Audubon, I went to photography boot camp.

Ralph Velasco, a noted local travel photographer, teaches this great refresher course periodically at Calumet Photo in Santa Ana. Ralph also leads frequent photography trips to exotic locales worldwide.

He offers local trips as well, with a day trip to San Diego by train coming up on July 29, and a night shoot of Newport Harbor on July 31. If you visit his website at, you'll find other trips and lectures.

I signed up for this class because I've gotten lazy in this digital age. I have been shooting on auto for so long, that I've forgotten how to really use a camera. Also, I keep switching cameras and it's hard to keep refreshed on how to use each new one that I acquire.


I'm currently shooting with a Nikon P510 and a Canon EOS D30, which have different capabilities and advantages.

A good camera does not make a good photographer. But a photographer who knows how to use his or her camera to the best advantage is going to take better photos.

Ralph went over the exposure triangle, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and histograms. If you don't know what those are, you need photo boot camp, where all was explained.

"One of the most important things to learn today is to mess with your histograms," Ralph said. Photographers often refer to that as post-processing. This is where a good digital image can become a great digital image.

During the composition section of the class, Ralph went over some of the elements of composition, such as the rule of thirds, positioning and placement of objects in the image, and filling the frame with the subject.

One of his favorite sayings was, "It's either in or it's out." That means, for example, that if you have a tip of a leaf showing at the edge of a photo, that you need to either move to eliminate it, or include more of is so that it becomes an element of the photo. Too often, photographers fail to move around to get the best angle for a shot, or they include distracting backgrounds.

"Change your perspective and shoot from nontraditional angles," he said.

He illustrated that point with a photo of one of his students who was shooting straight up at a bridge with the camera resting on the upright bridge support. The result was an unusual composition of rivets and steel beams.

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