Santa Barbara is beautiful

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That’s official.You can take it from me. The weather is great, the town is lovely and the food is excellent. It’s the sort of place one could easily live in. I spent nearly 11 hours yesterday just walking around and taking pictures. It’s a fabulous place.
I have three guide books with me and two of them are strangely dismissive of the place – you can do it all in half a day, they say and I dare say you could if you really wanted to but it begs the question – why would you want to? It’s a lovely place to putter around, there are interesting shops, great museums, a variety of high quality coffee shops and food stores.

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Airbnb provided me with yet more high-quality accommodation and a smart, witty and intelligent host named Jessica who has the loveliest dog in the world, Samson, as handsome as he is sweet-natured.
Jessica put me on to Renaud’s, which does the most excellent croissants and coffee and has become my go-to starter for each day. Having fuelled up there yesterday morning, I spent 11 hours walking around town, down to the Marina and Stearns Wharf (the oldest pier on the West Coast) with stops at the Santa Barbara Court House (pictured above, with a view from the tower as well) and the Museum of Modern Art. I took lots of photos, stopped off for lunch  at the Santa Barbara Brewing Company– a pulled pork burger and sweet potato fries – and after sunset had a lovely dinner of wild salmon with garlic, spring onion and butter dressing with fresh steamed vegetables at The Natural Cafe. Perfect.

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Renaud’s and The Santa Barbara Brewing Company

When I set out to take photos, I very rarely have a specific purpose in mind. I take the approach that I’ll walk out the door and see what the world presents me. That doesn’t mean I am clueless as to where to go. I wanted to photograph the Court House and the wharf and marina but apart from wanting to capture the sunset, I had no specific pictures in mind.

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From The Santa Barbara Court House

As a photographer, I have a love of architecture, texture and pattern and those things can be found almost anywhere and, if you look closely enough, in anything. I also dislike photographs that are ‘set up’ to look natural, when they are anything but. If you’re that good, take a natural photo or be a production designer or set dresser instead. They are high skills in their own right but for me the best photography is a record of what’s in front of you at the time, sans addition. You use the skills you have and the tools you carry to interpret what you see, of course but once you start adding or subtracting elements it becomes a different skill other than photography. I’m not saying it’s not valid, it just doesn’t float my boat.
And speaking of things floating – and to give you an example of the sort of thing that excites me – I came across something really interesting yesterday. A general rule when teaching/learning photography is that if you’re shooting outside you should either get up early or stay out late to capture the sunrise/sunset, because the shadows and changes in light add interest. All true and I opened this entry with a photo that is a testament to that, as are the ones below.

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Being a contrary soul, however, I do like to buck a trend. I also like taking photos of things we all see and pass every day but using careful composition and selection, present it to you differently to pique your interest. So while I was down at the marina yesterday, sun high, not a shadow to be seen, I spotted an interesting and natural phenomena on the uber-clean waters of the Santa Barbara coast. With the sun high, the day bright and the water clear, the boats were reflected in the water as if it were mirrored glass. However, the movement of the water distorted these reflections. To my eye, a careful composition of these reflections created an image more akin to an abstract painting than a photograph. To prove they were photographs, I added a duck here and there – naturally occurring ducks, mind, not brought along in cages and thrown into the waters as set dressing 😉 – and had a high old time photographing them.

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Which brings me to a concluding point. Photography is not taking hundreds of photographs in the hope of gaining one good one. Photography is training your eye to find a good image in what surrounds you, whatever that may be. The best photographic tool you carry is your intelligence. Use it to see what others don’t, to find beauty, humour or fun in what surrounds you. A duck in a marina doesn’t sound like the most interesting photo in the world, not compared to a beautiful sunset at dusk but if you asked me which of the shots I took yesterday interested and excited me the most?
Quack.
If you’re struggling to find some photographic mojo, try this: think of taking photographs like playing a visual version of the old I Spy game. I spy with my little eye…. this!
Did you see it? 

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Take a look at more of my work at www.billblack.co.uk

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