Color Seascapes: Cozumel, Mexico

El Mirador, #18. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #18. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Sorry about the lack of posts of late. We have been spending a lot of our emotional capitol recently and decided to drop off of the grid and out of the social media gerbil mill for ten days or so.

It was refreshing.

Enthused by a new environment, I did hoist my sleepy fanny perpendicular on nearly every morning in search of interesting sunrise sites, the above being one: El Mirador on the windy (Caribbean) side of the isle.

Some photography tips for this and other spots on Cozumel:

–First and foremost, the east area of the island, which I found most interesting, is theoretically off-limits before 6a.m. and after 7p.m., which will be a problem during certain times of the year for a photographer looking for good light. In the dark wee hours, you may run in to some reflectors stretched across the road next to a smallish warning sign that states the hours of access. (The sign actually says you can’t go into the southern and eastern areas between 6a.m. and 7p.m., but that is clearly a mistake.) It is easy enough to drive

Check Point. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Check Point. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

around the reflectors–they were unmanned when I encountered them–and continue on your way, but you could be taking a risk. The reason for the restriction (according to three different locals we asked) was that contraband and drug shipment activities were at one time an unpleasant reality in the relatively unpopulated areas (not so much now, apparently) and the local authorities didn’t want tourists inadvertently walking into some sort of Breaking Bad business transaction on one of the desolate beaches. I am not sure what the police would do if they found you and your tripod there outside of the posted hours but an educated guess would be that it would likely involve a fine. In my case, typically passing the check point at 5:40a.m. and arriving at my chosen photo op spots by 6a.m., I saw absolutely no one. YMMV!

–You will need a rental car (or scooter) to get out east and back during the “golden hours” of sunrise/sunset. We rented a car and had no close calls with other vehicles, people, iguanas, or crocodiles, although you have to be very alert when driving anywhere near San Miguel–motorcycles and scooters, like buzzing locusts, are everywhere. Note on car rental: The initial price will look very, very cheap. You’ll need to add on all the different required insurance policies, so you’ll likely end up paying $300.00 or even more for a week with a small economy car. It is worth it, though, if you need the photographic flexibility.

–Remember all the usual salt water/beach precautions: Be careful about sand and salt spray getting in and on your equipment. Bring cloths to clean things up and for wiping off lenses. Many folks will use a clear filter to protect their lenses in these conditions. Take great care when changing lenses–reminder: the east side is the windy side.

–The rock around El Mirador and on the southeastern side of the island is SHARPLY sculptured limestone. If you fall on it, you could stab yourself to death, poke an eye out, bust a kneecap…or, at the very least, come up very scraped, bloodied, and humbled. So, wear some good shoes–and watch your step.

–Be ready to fill a memory card or two as you experiment with different wave combinations and shutter speeds. I tried everything from longer 30-second exposures with my 9-stop ND filter, to exposures short enough to freeze the water motion. I tended to prefer the 2-second to 1/8 of a second range because of the wonderful water effects this would often create. (The above image was shot at 1/4 second and f/22. Yeah, yeah, I know…diffraction and all. It does indeed have a negative effect on sharpness but I’m OK with it.)

–Expect to do a fair amount of cloning in post-processing due to the amount of trash that collects along tide line on top of the algae. Or, alternatively, you could just fill up a few bags with trash before you shoot.

–Other spots to consider: the tide pools at Chen Rio at Kilometer 44, and the interesting blow holes at Kilometer 32. El Mirador is at about Kilometer 34.

–In a future post, I’ll show one or two before and after post-processing comparisons using my raw files. You will see that I did a fair amount of lifting of shadows and dropping of highlights, cloning out of trash and water droplets, contrast and saturation increases, horizon straightening, and so on…to turn the images into what I saw on that morning!

Here are some examples of what I came up with on the different mornings I shot along the east coast…

First, here is an example pre-sunrise image. Sometimes there is very nice light, with more subtle colors, before sunrise, so plan accordingly. I liked arriving just as first light was approaching. This gave me time to play with longer shutter speeds (8 seconds in this case) as well as scope out the area:

El Mirador, #1. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #1. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Here is another pre-sunrise photograph taken on a different morning, this time with Venus above and also reflected in the foreground pool. I only saw the planet’s reflection later, during post. If I had noticed at the time, I would have moved slightly right so as to put the reflection just slightly to the right in the water. This was a 20-second exposure and the naked eye saw much less light than what you see here:

El Mirador, #30. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #30. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

As the Sun comes up, your shutter speed will have to get shorter (unless you use filters), but this is a nice opportunity to try to catch waves in flagrante delicto, as in the following three examples–two into the sun, and one away. In the last, a half Moon happened to position itself nicely in the blue between the high clouds:

El Mirador, #7. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #7. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

El Mirador, #40. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #40. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

El Mirador, #42. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #42. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Another option for a completely different mood and look is to throw on a 9-stop filter and go for a long exposure–30 seconds at f/11 in this case. These filters are so dark you have to frame and focus first, then put the filter on for the shot:

Chen Rio, #5. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Chen Rio, #5. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

The opposite extreme is to stop at least some of the water motion. Here, at the blow holes at Kilometer 32, I used 1/200 and f/11 with full morning sun. I wasn’t quite successful in capturing the partial rainbow that would fleetingly appear through the mist (sorta seen below the Moon):

Blow Holes, #2. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Blow Holes, #2. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Finally, if you are stuck at “home” maybe try shooting the pier right next to your hotel as I did here. The near full Moon helped by adding a nice center-o’-interest with an anchored boat and dock light on the left as secondary tidbits. This was a 25-second exposure at f/22 but done sans filters as it was still quite dark out (well, with moonlight). The slow shutter smoothed out the sea (and blurred a few clouds) and the small aperture helped bring out the star effect on the Moon and the pier lights:

Moon Over the Pier. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Moon Over the Pier. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

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