In the Footsteps of the Masters – Oceano Dunes, CA

Oceano Dunes

Oceano Dunes

On my recent trip to CA I knew that I would have some free time to explore when I got done with a trade show that I was speaking at in LA. I would be making my way up to the Central Coast for a little wine tasting and I would be staying Santa Maria which is just south of San Luis Obispo. In my road trip planning I scoured my map for a location that I could go shoot near Santa Maria and saw a little spot right on the coast called Oceano Dunes SVRA and Guadalupe -Nipomo Dunes NWR and thought to myself, “Mmm, Dunes, I love dunes, this could be a great place!”.  I love shooting sand dunes and have shot many throughout the years. From White Sands to Imperial to Death Valley to Great Sand Dunes NP but I could not recall shooting any dunes along the coast. I know it seems somewhat counter intuitive since many dunes are ON the coast but I have always been drawn to the desert dunes.

Anyway, I did some Google searches and didn’t find a whole lot of info then I emailed a friend in Santa Barbara to see if he knew about these two places. I try to preplan my shooting as much as I can before I hit the road….sometimes it is helpful and sometimes the place just doesn’t pan out for one reason or another but I like to “know” where I am going so I can start visualizing the shots that I want. My friend in Santa Barbara referred me to a photographer in the Santa Maria area and that is when I got the info that sealed the deal. The photographer told me that part of the dunes (The dunes are split into 2 areas) was used for ORV activity and the other part was a wildlife refuge so of course none of those pesky and very loud vehicles would be bothering me. Well I knew what part of the dunes that I would be going to! To me there is nothing more annoying than when I show up to shoot sand dunes and there are tire tracks all over the place and loud “bee-like” noises buzzing in the background…it kind of ruins the mood for me. But then again, most of the dunes that I choose to photograph don’t allow ORV activity, which is VERY ok with me. Sorry ORV peeps…I just don’t like those things.

Oceano Shadow Play

Oceano Shadow Play

As luck or serendipity would have it one of the other photographers at the trade show I was doing lived in Santa Maria and I told him of my plans to go explore the dunes. He quickly responded that he would cancel his meeting for the next afternoon and be my personal guide to the dunes. Yes, this is awesome I thought, there is nothing like a local to take you out to shoot at a place you haven’t been before. Luis Escobar and I met up the next afternoon and we caravanned out to the coast – I am so glad he knew where he was going because with all of the twists and turns I had no idea where I was but I knew it would be the best secret spot of all since he had been shooting out here for years. We arrived, parked and gathered our gear…off we went into the dunes. Luis told me that Master Photographer Edward Weston had shot this gorgeous 17 mile stretch of coastal dunes many times. If it was good enough for Mr. Weston then it was good enough for me. Luis said we had gotten lucky that the marine layer had not moved in as is so often does this time of year. The sun was shining and the breeze was damp and a little cold, for this desert girl, so I threw on another layer. Only to quickly start “glowing” as we hiked up and down the dunes to find our ZEN. As we stood atop the dunes I scanned for patterns and light and found a few choice spots that caught my eye. Luis went his way then I went mine to commune with the dunes then after we shot our “serious photos” we played around with shooting photos of each other and of course I had to do some “shadow play” shots….my trip would not be complete without one. The sun sank low and the light was fading so we called it a wrap and headed for our cars.

Chey - Oceano

Chey – Oceano

When I returned home I just happened to pick up one of my favorite books that sits on my coffee table; “Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs” by Ansel Adams. I was thumbing through it and was stopped in my tracks by a gorgeous sand dune photo, the caption; “Sand Dune – Oceano, CA”! OMG – really? Ansel Adams shot here too – wow…..I knew I loved this place. I read the article about the making of this photo and had to chuckle…even in 1950 when he shot there he complained about the “obtrusive dune-buggy infestation” – great minds think alike! I knew this place was special but now it is even more special. I always love knowing that I am walking in the footsteps of the Masters and Oceano is now one of those places I can hold with just a little bit more reverence in my mind and in my soul. Thank you to Luis Escobar for being the perfect guide!

PHOTO WORKSHOP: If you love photographing sand dunes I offer my “Full Moon at White Sands” 2 Day Photo Workshop in MAGICAL New Mexico…..August 20th & 21st, 2013 – I have a few spaces left! Click HERE for more info!

If you enjoyed this article, Get email updates (It’s Free)

2 Comments. Leave new

The Central Coast is really a special place. There’s just some kind of energy that makes you feel good. I felt this many many times being there. Glad you got to experience the magic, and beautiful images.

Yes, it is Bob….thank you~~~ 🙂