"The pictures you make are like a connect-the-dots game that becomes the line of your life, as real and vibrant as the lines on your face and hands. We tell stories with our pictures. In turn, our pictures tell our story - what we did, and how well or poorly we did it, and very significantly, if we stuck with it." - Joe McNally
Springtime is the busiest time of year for me, photographically speaking, what with dance recitals and the attendant portraiture, graduations, and other end-of-school-year events. So it was a rare thing to have five days of "free" time, having completed all previous commitments. And with five days of free time comes the intense desire to get outta town. Travelocity presented Vancouver as a relatively inexpensive option, given the last-minute nature of this booking, so I jumped at it. I'm no stranger to Vancouver, having twice traveled up there to shoot ballet and contemporary dancers with Canada's best dance shooter David Cooper, plus a couple of other visits for work-related or other purposes. With only one full day of shooting, and a forecast of one day of good weather, I was off.
On arrival, I checked into my hotel, then took off to Granville Island, a half-hour walk over False Creek. It's a touristy place, but a nice way to spend a couple of hours, especially with the threat of rain. I spent some time listening to Jim Meyer, who plays a twelve-string Chapman Stick, an electronic instrument that looks like a wide-neck guitar without a body. I've never seen a street performer who was camera shy, but Jim was, so I got only a couple of snaps with his permission. The most interesting aspect was his gloved hands, playing in the cool afternoon. A duo-toned black and white rendering revealed the textures best.
On the way back over the Granville Bridge, as the light was falling, I took a look back to the east, and saw Mount Baker, bathed in light, looming in the distance in the State of Washington. I had never seen Mt. Baker from Vancouver, and it transfixed me. I stood on that bridge, stopping everyone who came by, pointing out this marvelous scene. For the locals, this was apparently no big deal. So I snapped away, changing my exposures to try to capture the full tonal range and color temperature of this scene. But the dynamic range between the darkness of the fore-and-middle ground and the mountaintop 70 miles away pretty much kicked my butt, and without a tripod, a high dynamic range approach wasn't really feasible. Instead, I got this.
As David Hobby says, when you're working in the blue hour, you might as well take your photograph in that direction. This wasn't specifically during the "blue hour", as the sky reveals. But the foreground and middle ground were decidedly blue in hue, the sun having already receded below the horizon. Here, I took it further toward the blue, which had the added benefit of taking some of the high-elevation late afternoon yellow out of the snow-clad mountain.
The next morning dawned dark and dreary, which lasted til the noon hour. I was frustrated that my day was going to wind up gloomy and wet, but I went out for a walk, without cameras, and found myself watching the grand announcement of the members of the Canadian women's World Cup soccer team, the finals of which will be played in Canada. It was a big deal, and the locals were stoked, and getting soaked. I trudged back, hoping for clearing skies.
So I packed up my gear, which, by the way consisted of my Fuji X100S, my XT1, and two lenses, the 18-135WR and 10-24 f/4, my travel kit I intend to use in Europe while photographing subjects other than performers. This would be a test of the utility of this minimal kit. I boarded a local bus to the end of Davie Street, and ended up in glorious sunlight on the outskirts of Stanley Park. Hallelujah! I decided to walk the entire Seawall, a nine kilometer hike, and capture the various directions of this loop, along with the changing light that the afternoon and evening would present.
One of my goals in this exercise was to ensure that there were people in my photos. Too often, travel photos are sterile, devoid of the people who actually live there. Ask yourself, how many times have you wanted to take a photograph of a place and waited until the people left the scene? After all, they're nobody you know. But they provide a sense of scale and a reason to be there. So the trick is to find the right moment to make the photo. Are the people engaged with each other or focused on their destination? Is their stride attractive? It's very easy to include awkward moments in shots like this, so shooting a small burst can really help get you a nice composition and have the people look good, too. Put the people in a nodal point and they become an important element of the photo. Though I did not direct anyone, there is nothing random about the placement of elements of this photo. Instead, I placed myself where the elements would come together. All I did was wait for the right moment.
The Seawall trail around Stanley Park is an almost 360-degree loop. Beginning at around 2:00 p.m., I was ensured of getting a variety of light conditions and compositional elements. Here are a few of my favorites, with some additional commentary.
I knew that Lions Gate Bridge connecting Vancouver to points north would provide a dramatic element from a variety of locations. It soars over the entrance to English Bay due to the high promontory of Stanley Park as well as the need to provide clearance to ships. Putting people in the frame also adds to the sense of scale.
I waited under the bridge in hopes of capturing one of the many seaplanes that come in and out of Coal Harbor nearby. My choice of lens, in this case 10 mm, enabled me to intentionally distort the geometry of the bridge and bring in some trees. It also renders the passing seaplane overhead very, very small in the frame. Although the plane occupies maybe .5% of the image, my eye immediately goes to it. A great photo? Probably not. But I like it nonetheless.
Stark geometry and bold colors are accentuated in directional, mid-afternoon daylight, as these examples show.
One of the strangest sights on this walk is a small statue erected about ten yards off-shore entitled "Girl in a Wetsuit". It was meant to commemorate scuba diving, which was big back in the day in Vancouver (for whatever reason), but for me, it's just a humorous perch for seagulls, and the resting place for a girl who can't do anything about it:
Just around the bend, the sweeping vista of the Vancouver skyline comes into view, and your choice of lens determines what elements you want to emphasize, whether it's the skyscrapers of downtown, or the bright orange cranes of the harbor, with Mt. Baker looming in the distance.
Panning to the west at this time of day reveals the beginning of the "golden hour" as the light gets warmer and subjects are more directionally-lit.
I stopped for dinner right after this, knowing that I'd finish right about the time when the "golden hour" transitions to the "blue hour", that time of day David Hobby calls "mix light". It's perhaps the best, most dramatic time of day for scenic photography. In Vancouver, it's a target-rich environment, a time when the light enhances all of the elements of a good photograph, making great photographs out of what might otherwise be snapshots.
And finally, blue hour. By now, most people have packed it in. Too bad, because this can result in some of the most dramatic shots of the day. I didn't have an opportunity to get to a vantage point to capture the entire Vancouver skyline at this time of day, but these scenes can be just as impactful.
At this point, I did pack it in, and walked the rest of the way to my hotel. Altogether, I walked about 17 miles that day around Vancouver, and had a very rewarding time.
A couple of final notes. If you're a person who enjoys traveling with your camera, you owe it to yourself to check out David Hobby's fantastic series "The Traveling Photographer" on Lynda.com. He offers invaluable tips on when and where to shoot, how to look for and make the most out of your many opportunities. While the series is focused on specific cities around the world, the principles and lessons are applicable anywhere.
Lastly, some commentary on the equipment I used in Vancouver. Although I brought my Fuji X100S, all of these images were made with the XT1, and most were made with the 18-135WR lens. All of these are almost straight-from-the-camera jpgs, with minimal tweaks in Lightroom - mostly straightening and cropping. With a few months of experience with the Fuji system, I'm becoming increasingly fond of the rendition the Fuji's give me. They handle available light extremely well, no matter what the available light is; outdoor conditions, indoor conditions, stage light, you name it. I tried various white balance settings during this afternoon walk, including auto, daylight, and cloudy. In most cases, auto worked just fine, if not best. Other than the black and white/duo-tone conversion of the street musician, the only photo I adjusted color temperature in post was the photo of False Creek and Mt. Baker at the top, moving it more to the blue to neutralize the late afternoon yellow snow on Mt. Baker (nobody likes yellow snow, right?)
The only frustrating limitation of the Fuji XT1 is the apparent shutter lag, or perhaps it's the link between the electronic view finder and the shutter. Though it almost always nails focus, sometimes that shutter lag results in missed opportunities. It's common understanding that the Fuji system isn't for sports shooters who need the absolute critical, split-second timing to capture the peak action. It also isn't for dance shooters like me, who need the same split-second timing. But I've come to the conclusion that just about any subject that requires that split-second timing will not be shot with the Fuji system. Getting the timing down for capturing a specific point in a pedestrian's stride was an exercise in predicting the shutter lag. I'm shooting a runway fashion show this weekend; the Canon gear will be coming out for that for the same reason.
Nevertheless, I invested in the Fuji system to minimize the size and weight of my gear for traveling and other assignments where the Fuji system excels. I do not regret that decision at all. I'm eagerly looking forward to documenting a choir performance tour in Ireland in a few weeks. I know that this kit, augmented with the 40-150 f/2.8 and 35 f/1.4 lenses, will give me great results, and my back and shoulders will enjoy the trip as much as my eyes and ears will.
Karen and I took a break from our typical weekend routine and hit the road to the Calico Ghost Town just east of Barstow. The town had a brief run during the silver boom of the 1880s and 90s, lasting twelve years before it went bust. Walter Knott bought the town back in the 1950s, and restored many of the old relics, turning it into a sort of low rent Knott's Berry Farm. Today, the County of San Bernardino operates it as a county park, and they do a pretty good job of maintaining it and offering attractions for visitors from all over. (Today, there were three buses of South Korean tourists. How did I know they were from South Korea? One of them came up to Karen and me and said, "Pleased to meet you. I am from South Korea! You are very handsome!")
Anyway, one of the main reasons I wanted to return to this place (hadn't been there since I was a kid) was the incredible geology of the place. You can see some of the possibilities as you drive out Interstate 15 on your way to Las Vegas. Exit Ghost Town Rd. and look left up into the hills, and you'll see a melange of different rock formations and colors. This was probably the sight that enticed the prospectors back in the 19th century. Today, a better enticement is the fried pickles at Peggy Sue's 1950's Diner, also at the Ghost Town Rd. exit….
But I digress, again. The formation you see above is located adjacent to the lower parking lot, unused unless Calico is hosting a special event. I suspect many visitors don't even see it, or if they do, they fail to notice just how amazing this geology is. I'm certainly no trained geologist, but it's pretty clear what's going on here. These are layers upon layers of various types of rock, both igneous and sedimentary, folded by incredible tectonic forces. There are cross-bedded planes, folds in excess of 270 degrees (look to the right of the trailer), and unconformities (areas where the deposits have eroded to nothing, leaving gaps in the geologic record) all over the place. I don't know what the time scale of this scene is, but I've rarely seen anything as dramatic as this in one concise location.
Back to the visit…One of the main things I wanted to do today was to put my new Fuji XT-1 to the test in a different environment. I've shot this amazing camera in low-light performance settings, and have been very impressed with the results. I'll be taking it (and the X100S) to Ireland this summer with the Santa Margarita Catholic High School choir, and will be using it for performances with fast glass, but also general travel purposes, primarily with the very flexible 18-135mm weather-resistant lens. That gives me about 24-200mm of coverage in one small package, something I'd need two lenses to cover with my Canon 5D3.
During the hour or so we were there, both Karen and I got some nice snaps around town. It's a tourist place, and while the photos are "fine", they're not something I want to present in detail here. But there is one portrait I made that I do want to comment on, this gunfighter I captured while he was waiting to be killed for the umpteenth time today.
I like just about everything about this portrait. First, he's sitting under an overhang, with no direct sunlight. Ergo, the light is soft yet directional. There are distinct highlight and shadow sides, but the shadow rotation is gentle, even if his visage isn't. Though the composition is tight, there are leading lines all over. The highlighted brim of his hat and the slope of his shoulders all lead the eye to his face, which is the brightest element of the frame. Though his eyes are in rather deep shadow, there is still meaningful expression on his face, even a Peter Hurley "squinch". You can't direct this stuff in a quick portrait (I spent maybe 20 seconds with this guy).
When I brought this image into Lightroom, It was okay enough. I liked the composition a lot (it's what you see here, plus a little door frame to the right, which I cropped out), but he was in shade, so the color tended toward the blue side, and the potential for enhanced characterization wasn't realized straight out of the camera. Fortunately, these Fuji files are so incredibly malleable and they take loads of adjustments without breaking down. Here, I have warmed up the image considerably, reduced the highlights significantly and then jacked the clarity and contrast quite a bit. I've lowered the vibrance and saturation. There's no noise in this image, no chromatic aberration or halos, and no sharpening has been applied.
The final image is a strong one, one of my favorite portraits that I've made in quite a while. I'm really looking forward to taking this kit to Ireland later this year.
It's been three months since my last blog post, a time of shooting high school football, some performances, and some commissioned work. With the month of November, things are heating back up, starting with the second major, international wheelchair tennis tournament in the City of Mission Viejo. I was lucky enough to be the official photographer for the ITF/NEC Wheelchair Masters tournaments (both singles and doubles) last year, which was an incredible learning experience for me, not so much from a photographic perspective, but rather as a real eye-opener into the world of these incredible athletes. I was really blessed with the reception my work received last year, and I eagerly accepted the assignment again this year to shoot the UNIQLO Wheelchair Doubles Masters (the singles tourney having previously been committed to another venue).
I'm going to post a continuing report on my experience this year, hopefully keeping up on a daily basis, despite the rigors of all-day shooting and same-day delivery of images to the multiple stakeholders involved in a major tennis tournament. I'm going to post some representative images, including those I particularly like, as well as those which exemplify themes, perspectives, challenges and opportunities presented during each day's work.
Day 1: Monday, November 3. Exhibition at the Beverly Center, Beverly Hills.
This year's major sponsor is the Japanese clothing retailer UNIQLO, which positions itself in the H&M market segment. UNIQLO recently opened a new store in the Beverly Center, an enclosed mall in Beverly Hills. UNIQLO sponsors Shingo Kunieda, a champion player on the wheelchair tennis circuit, and UNIQLO wanted to showcase the sport and Kunieda by creating a small tennis court in the main open space of the mall where Shingo and fellow competitor Michael Jeremiasz of France could have a friendly exhibition. So, on Monday, the ever-resourceful Mission Viejo staff and UNIQLO PR folks created a small-scale court and the two players went at it. Since the court was only about 20x40 feet, and surrounded by shoppers and diners, the players hit a soft, spongy ball, and couldn't go all-out as they would on a regulation court. But it was fun for them and the spectators.
Photographically, it was a mixed bag. Tight quarters, low available light, and co-existence with video crews made it a challenging assignment. But everyone played well together and we got some decent images for the City of Mission Viejo, UNIQLO, the Beverly Center, and the players. I say "we", because I enlisted the help of my wife Karen to get some shots with my Fuji X100S while I worked the Canon gear, bouncing speed lights around in an effort to keep the light out of the players' eyes and out of the video guys' shots. We shot from down low and up high, on a floor above the court, where there was an opening. Turns out, Karen got maybe the best shot of the day from up there.
One of the insurmountable challenges presented by this vantage point was the inability to square up the horizontal and vertical lines. The tile grid and the rectilinear aspects of the UNIQLO logo and court begged for symmetry, but the perspective available from that position prevented us from achieving it. Photoshop does a good job of bringing horizontal and vertical lines into position, but when you introduce human beings into the math, strange things happen. But you do the best you can, and keep the players looking natural, perspective control be damned.
Here are a couple of representative shots from the friendly competition. The shots from the floor level were lit with one speed light bounced off the partial ceiling covering half of the court. The difference in light levels between the two halves of the court was about two full stops. In addition, the sunlight gracefully flowing from the skylights high above needed some fill to prevent "raccoon eyes". The fill from the speed light bounced around the ceiling and off the floor to open up those shadows. A tricky bit of photon ping pong that fortunately worked. The shots from the opening above were all illuminated with sun from above. It helped when the players looked up.
Since it was a media opportunity, I also wanted to get some "behind-the-scenes" shots, showing the crews at work with the players, both on the court and upstairs at the UNIQLO store.
This shot was a bit more difficult than you might imagine. The interior of the UNIQLO store was lit with sorta-kinda tungsten-esque light, leaving a moderately yellow cast, while the store opening, where this shot was staged, was bathed in diffused skylight. So there was really no way to balance out the different color temperatures with a gelled speed light. So you choose the battle you can win; in this case, by letting the store light go where it will, and focus your strategy on rendering the people accurately.
I wanted to end up with a singular image of Kunieda with an element of the UNIQLO brand. Fortunately, at the very end of the short interview with him, he gave us this. It's all ambient light from the diffused skylight above the store.
On Tuesday evening, the "draw party" is held, during which a nice dinner is served and the players learn the order of the matches, which begin on Wednesday morning.
Day 7+8, Monday, November 17.
Well, the plan for a daily update to this blog post quickly went into the toilet. Shoulda known that with nightly delivery of images for the City of Mission Viejo, the ITF, and sponsors, my days ended around 2:00 a.m. or later each night. Then, after the close of this wonderful event, I transitioned back to my other assignments. So here we are, eight days after the close of the tournament, with all responsibilities completed. How to describe the tournament, from a photographer's perspective, in a different way than last year's post?
Last year, I had certain goals in mind for my coverage, including showing action, showcasing sponsors, showing emotion, getting the jubilation of victory, etc. Fortunately, I was able to accomplish all of these goals. The first goal I set out for myself this year centered on one specific athlete, Great Britain's Jordanne Whiley, current doubles champion with her partner Yui Kamiji of Japan. Why Jordanne? I recently saw a video telling Jordanne's story, beginning with her brittle bone condition, which has resulted in 26 breaks of her legs and eight surgeries to install rods, pins, and other hardware. Yet she's as strong as they come. I wanted to show that strength and perseverance. My first impression was to try to spend a few minutes with Jordanne, away from the competition, under favorable lighting conditions, and make a portrait showing her drive and intensity via a portrait of her face. But I didn't want to take her away from her main goal, to win the tournament, and I didn't want to try to force an expression that wasn't real.
Fortunately, during one of her early matches, I watched her serve routine and saw that at one specific point of her serve all of the traits that I had hoped to create in a set piece. A little post-processing to focus the viewer's eye and I had it. I was gratified to hear from Jordanne that in her opinion it was the best tennis photo ever made of her.
Covering a multi-day tennis tournament naturally involves getting a lot of captures. After all, you can't wait for the photo to reveal itself; you have to anticipate it and get it as it happens. So that means thousands of photos a day. But when you think about it, there are not all that many distinctly different moves a tennis player makes. There's the forehand, the backhand, the overhead volley, the reach, the serve, the "ball in your face or at your feet" reaction, the charge to the net, the passing shot, and maybe a few more. So what changes? Sometimes, not much other than the backdrop or the wardrobe, as seen below.
First up, Germany's Sabine Ellerbrock, who, by the way, was near death's door just three weeks before the tournament. She's a fierce competitor who has a somewhat more contemplative perspective these days on the curative powers of athletic competition.
Here's the Netherlands' Marjolein Buis, who with her partner Michaela Spaanstra, lost in an epic semi-final match to Louise Hunt and Katharina Kruger. These are not consecutive frames, or even the same play. Maybe I should have kept only one...
South Africa's Evans Maripa was paired with Japan's Shingo Kunieda. It is Evans' first year on the tour, and though the pair didn't fare well, Evans showed his talent and competitive drive. Only his shirt changed.
One of the more fascinating photographic experiences is capturing the occasional spill. As I've said before, these athletes are fearless, and head-first crashes into the fence while chasing a ball are fairly common. They can be frightening to watch, but fortunately, most of the players recover quickly and get right back to the match. But they do provide some interesting photographs.
Here's Stephen Welch, from Ft. Worth, Texas, who plays in a chair without a small rear wheel that prevents backward spills just like this one.
Great Britain's David Phillipson goes into the fence, fortunately stopping just before crashing into a pile of wheelchairs and equipment. The girls on the left see the carnage about to happen. Predictably, there's one young lady who can't get her face out of her smartphone.
Sometimes the most drastic-looking crashes are the least impactful, at least on the outside. Here's Belgium's Joaquim Gerard after hitting the fence hard and spilling.
At other times, a spill does result in injury. Argentina's Gustavo Fernandez hit the fence and got his hand stuck, ripping a nasty cut.
At the end of the day, at least for me, the most interesting photographs are those that portray the intensity, the competitive spirit, the stories, and the joy of competing among these athletes. Their expressions tell their stories, so I look for them and am drawn most intently on those that are unique to each individual.
France's Nico Peifer, whose seemingly effortless motion masks a fierce competitive spirit, sometimes revealed only in his gaze.
France's Michael Jeremiasz, one of the more colorful, as well as talented, pros on the tour.
Great Britain's Andy Lapthorne, who exhibits the full range of emotions and intensity on the court.
David Buck, who looks like he's about to munch into the ball.
Reigning quad doubles champion Nick Taylor, usually an implacable force on the court, really getting into this forehand volley.
Germany's Katharina Kruger. Katharina is a joy to be around, and a joy to photograph. The main reason? You know how faces usually look when the person squints in the sun, or during intense activity? The face usually pinches up. But Katharina's face goes into this great smile. You have to try hard to take a bad picture of Katharina Kruger.
And then there's Stephen Welch. You can't plan for this stuff; you just have to be ready for it.
Joaquim Gerard, after winning a crucial point.
And finally, David Phillipson, reaching vainly for a lob over his head.
My heartfelt thanks go to Steve Bell, Jason Harnett, and Brian Gruner, who along with a large contingent of City staff, many of whom volunteered their time, put on a fantastic tournament. I sincerely hope the tour comes back to Mission Viejo next year.
As I sat down to write a blog post on our weekend getaway to Cambria on the Central Coast, I had in mind a short piece on traveling light, with just the Fuji X100S. This, after lugging around 25 pounds of essential (I think…) gear from London to Paris to Rome with a wonderful choir last month. But the Cambria weekend blog post kinda got hijacked by the story of the severe water crisis in this idyllic community and what the they are (or aren't) doing about it. See below for that screed. So this piece is the one I had in mind, minus the water rant.
One of the few things I regretted about the Europe choir tour was the lack of time to really focus on travel photography. Touring with 260 people ties you to an unrelenting schedule, and that's not conducive to photography. But a leisurely weekend, combing the beach, gave me an opportunity to try some things I hadn't really had time to do with this amazing little camera. So Karen and I strolled Moonstone Beach on a late Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday, while she slept, I got up early and tried some different things again. Here are a few takeaways.
This little thing was a total mystery to me. I first saw one, then another, and another, dried up on the beach. In a dried condition, they looked like clear, twisted up plastic drink lids. But fresh out of the ocean, they revealed deep, iridescent blue hues and textures. I learned that they are a very small species of jellyfish, with the blue underside and the clear "fin" which protrudes above the water and acts like a sail. This specimen is about three inches in diameter. The photo attests to the incredible detail and macro capability of the X100S. The shot was made from about six inches away, and is pretty much straight out of the camera.
One of the things that really impresses me about these Fuji files is their ability to handle significant amounts of clarity and contrast without breaking down. I rarely make any adjustments to saturation, and when I do, it's always a reduction. This might be my first photo with saturation added, to bring out and intensify the various colors of these tiny beach stones. And you can pixel-peep all you want and you won't find artifacts, chromatic aberration, or fringing of any kind.
Likewise with this "still life" of more or less fresh kelp.
Adding clarity, contrast and saturation really brings out the colors of these marine plants, and makes them look like they were just deposited onto the beach.
So if it works in these close-up shots, how about a landscape (or seascape)?
What initially attracted me in this scene was the intense color of the green moss on the rocks in the center of the frame. Unable to get down onto the rocks, and limited by the 23mm fixed focal length lens on the X100S, I hoped that the naturally intense green would be enough of a point of interest to "anchor" this scene. But adding a lot of clarity and contrast, plus a bit of saturation in the blue-gray water helped to make this a more colorful palette than I originally saw.
After our beach stroll, we decided to drive up the coast a few short miles to take a look at the elephant seals that inhabit a stretch of beach just north of San Simeon. Again, the 23mm fixed lens on the APS-C X100S would not be my first choice in photographing these ungainly but fascinating animals. I'd rather have a tight portrait of the males jousting for supremacy. At the very least, 200 mm on a full frame body would be required for such a shot. Maybe even 400 mm from the public viewing area. But the X100S still held its own, even with the significantly too-wide perspective. Without an anti-alias filter on the X100S, you can crop in as tight as you can, and still get incredible detail. This shot is about 15% of the original file.
Sunday morning was a bit foggy and overcast. I thought a black and white treatment might be good for the subdued light. So I switched to the X100S's black and white film mode, rather than convert a color image in post.
As much as I'd love to have a Fuji XT1 and an array of dedicated lenses, the budget doesn't have room for that just now. So I'm going to continue to explore with this great little camera. I continue to be impressed with it.
Karen and I decided to make a quick getaway up to the bucolic and beautiful Central Coast community of Cambria for the weekend. We were lucky enough to get a nice room in a small inn right on Moonstone Beach. We drove up on Saturday and did the usual routine for us: first stop - tri-tip lunch at the Main St. Grill, formerly owned by the great Central Coast chef Ian McPhee, who has since consolidated his holdings down in Templeton, and has sold the Grill to a new owner, who has enlarged the place significantly. Fortunately, growing the business hasn't reduced the quality of the food, perhaps only the quaintness of the place.
But what immediately struck me, and set the tone for the entire weekend, was the prominently displayed sign on the restroom doors, which advised customers that due to the severe water shortage in Cambria, some restaurants are prohibited from opening their restrooms to customers. Instead, customers are directed to use "Honey Huts" (yes, that's a brand name) outside. "Honey Huts", as in porta-potties. No flushing needed.
Well, okay. Everyone knows that we're in a severe drought here in California and throughout the West. Down here in Orange County, cities are discussing ways to incentivize conservation, ranging from patrols looking for over-irrigation on lawns, to actual fines for using too much water. Predictably, the pinheads on the editorial board of our local libertarian rag, the Register, say that if water management were left to the private sector in an unfettered free market, profit incentives and pricing would take care of the matter. Which, on its face, is ridiculous. Economic theory doesn't create rain. Which is ultimately the fact and the problem. (Pardon me for a quick rant…. The Register is the poster child for the adage, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." But enough of that.)
So back to Cambria. After visiting a Honey Hut, we wandered the town, looking at all the neatlittleshops, and speaking with the friendly shopkeepers. I asked several of them, just how bad is the water shortage here in Cambria? The answer: our water source is groundwater wells, and the best estimates are that we expect to run dry in November.
Holy crap! November, as in 90 days away. "Run dry", as in no water. Not something that's fixable "when we get around to it." So what is the community doing about it?
The answer, severe restrictions (e.g. no watering landscaping with potable water, no pools, no water at campgrounds, etc.) while debating growth vs. no growth. The no-growthers believe that conservation alone, strict growth limits, and restrictions on the tourist economy (e.g. restaurants, lodging, etc.) will enable the community to survive the drought. Which is also ridiculous. Conservation and restrictions on human activity (whether growth-inducing or mere human survival) also do not create rain. Some fear that expansion of the water supply will induce growth, and thereby reduce property values. Of course, a million-dollar home without a source of water is, well…not exactly prime real estate.
Both of these seemingly polar opposite philosophies share one thing in common. They're economic models based on supply and demand. But when the supply side of the equation is absent, all you have is unmet demand. And when the issue is water, that's a life and death deal. (Unless, apparently, you're Lady Gaga and can cajole the powers that be to fill the pool at Hearst Castle just up the coast with 345,000 gallons for a music video.) But at the end of the day, you can't really play poker with Mother Nature; she never folds.
So now you have the local electeds, the Board of Directors of the Cambria Community Services District, trying to implement a small desalination plant on a brackish water stream just up the coast in San Simeon. This, by itself, is not a long-term solution, but it's not a small matter either, especially in these parts. It's a $15 million project, subject to the jurisdiction of the usual lineup of regulatory agencies, including the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the fiendish Coastal Commission, which never met a project it didn't either hate or use as leverage to achieve something else unrelated to the matter at hand. So the chances of getting the plant built in 90 days are slim and none. Trust me, I've been there.
And you have the no-growthers using the predictable tactics to thwart the desalination project: claims of back room deals by the CCSD, and a lack of "transparency" in its deliberations. "Transparency" is the buzzword of the decade, as if the press' and public's ability to see all and know all in real time will somehow generate agreement on pressing problems among people who can't even agree on the time of day, whether in Cambria or anywhere else in our great land. But again, I digress. Meanwhile, time marches on, and each day the community draws closer to November than they were the day before, which means no water.
Well, not completely. There is one additional alternative: trucking in potable water every day for this community of 6,000 and its tourists, upon whom the community depends for its economic survival. At dinner on Saturday night, the restaurant we visited offered beautiful vistas of the Pacific, but alas, no water; instead, they sold bottled water at their cost, which was the best they could do. Sad.