Shooting at F-4 Along the Northern California Coast

Harbor House, Elk, CA; Mendocino Botanical Gardens, Fort Bragg, CA

Hidden-inSite is travel and photography blog. I write a lot about places I’ve visited, but not much about photography. That’s because although I love to take pictures, I’m not a photography maven. I leave that to the wonderful teachers and mentors I’ve met from Bali, Israel, India and right here at home in the Bay Area.

But on our late-summer trip to California’s North Coast I slowed down and tried something new: shooting most of my images at one f-stop. I chose f-4 because that’s the aperture (opening) on my lens that gives me those delicious photos where one part of the image is in focus, with the rest blurred out and left to the viewer’s imagination. It’s a setting that’s really fun to try with flowers, which is what I did at two special places along the Northern California coast, the Harbor House Inn in Elk and the Mendocino Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg.

Harbor House, Elk, California

Harbor House sits on a cliff overlooking a rocky Pacific cove in the old lumber town of Elk, California. The inn was built in 1916 by the Goodyear Redwood Company to showcase the beauty of their product to potential buyers.

Recently renovated, the classic California inn glows with North Coast hospitality and modern amenities. And it boasts a Michelin star for executive chef Matthew Kammerer’s innovative hyperlocal food.

Ingredients are sourced within 50 miles. Fish is bought right off the dock or caught in the cove. Vegetables are grown in raised beds on the site. Kelp and sea lettuce graced savory courses, and seaweed ice cream showed up for dessert.

The morning after our ten-course tasting dinner we lingered in the fabulous garden overlooking the sea before heading north. Here is some of what I saw through my f-4 lens.

Fennel pollen, beloved of bees and hipster bartenders:

Thistles of many sizes graced the Harbor House garden:

An amazing mystery plant:

A daisy from another angle:

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

I’m not generally a botanical garden junkie, but the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg was calling me with its combination of planted areas and natural coastal bluffs. A botanical garden by the sea was too appealing to pass up.

In season, the 47-acre property showcases roses, heaths and heathers, camellias, rhododendrons, fuchsias and dahlias. After a morning spent at Glass Beach, roaming the four miles of garden trails was a relaxing change of pace.

The field of zinnias reminded me of a Mexican fiesta.

And the mounds of heathers brought me back to the Scottish Highlands.

But the magical dahlias stole my heart.


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  1. All beautiful but dahlias are also my favorites. Papa would appreciate your efforts.

    • Thanks Fredi. I can scarcely imagine what Papa (my father for other readers) would make digital photography and the whole internet.

  2. Lovely post Ellen. Makes me want to travel the coast to check out that garden. The Dahlia garden in Golden Gate Park should be splendid right now too.

  3. These photos are indeed luscious! They make me want to take the same road trip.

  4. The North Coast of California never stops being beautiful, no matter how often you go there – the beaches, the forests, the rivers, the flowers. Highway One from Jenner north has to be one of the most wonderful drives in the world.

  5. Great flower and landscape photos! That f/4 really works for both.

  6. The beauty shared through your camera and writing makes one realize the fact that there are so much to see and experience, but life is so short! Keep up with your ‘pilgrimage!

  7. Beautiful photos Ellen. I can see how those photography workshops are showing in your work.

  8. Thanks everyone for your kind comments. Yes, M Bezboruah, there is so much to see and experience in the world. I love traveling to far away places, but there is also a lot to see near home.

  9. Those pictures of the bees on the flowers are amazing! Did you use a macro lens for that?

  10. These pictures are fabulous.


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