Is This Even a Place?

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California / Impressionism / Inspiration / Photography / Seascapes


Yes, it is. As a matter of fact, it’s a view from about five hundred feet above sea level off the side of southbound California Highway 1 in Sonoma County.

Originally shot in December 2013, this image sat in my archives for years. It didn’t sit there because I particularly wanted it to. It sat there because there’s evidence of a nasty lens aberration in the RAW file that several previous attempts at RAW processing and Photoshop editing couldn’t get rid of.

The vaunted Sony RX100 — first generation — is wonderful camera in most ways, but in some circumstances it can distort colors at the edge of the frame. As much as I loved the shot, I couldn’t show it. Then last week I visited this image again. A combination of a different creative approach on my part and some wizardry from the brilliant creators of the latest version of DxO PhotoLab gave me the results I wanted. Viola. (It is French software, after all.)

But it didn’t really look that way, did it? Actually this is close to what the camera saw. In my mind’s eye I saw something more pure so I did soften it a bit for a more impressionist look and removed some floating kelp from the foreground — but this is still pretty much how it looked.

Another technical note. Anyone who has spent any time on my fine-art website knows I love horizons. However, horizons are not always cooperative. Sometimes they’re obscured by clouds or fogbanks. Or rain squalls. Or mist. Or some combination of all of the above that makes one wonder, just what is the horizon in some images? Most of my shots are hand-held so there’s almost always going to be some straightening. If a fog bank or rain squall runs a bit diagonal to the true horizon but both are in the shot, it’s a challenge: the fog bank’s apparent horizon and the “true” horizon are in disagreement. In many cases, leveling the true horizon can be, to quote Fargo, kinda funny-looking. But lining up the fog bank won’t work either, because it’s often inconsistent — so what do I level to? Best I can do is adjust till it looks right — whatever that is — and hope the viewer agrees.

This seascape horizon has true horizon going through more than half the width of the shot, so it was easy. Except that it needed another tenth of a degree tweak when I double-checked it as I was writing, because visual weight of the rain squall toward the left was still messing with me.

(Sony RX100. RAW processing in DxO PhotoLab 2.2; Editing in Adobe Photoshop.)

The Author

California based fine-art photographer featuring abstract, impressionist, and minimalist seascapes — near and distant — and floral-based images. Fine-art photography can be seen at All original images on this blog are copyright 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 Michael Scandling. All rights reserved. No images on this site may be copied, duplicated, reused, published, or re-purposed in any way without express permission from the copyright owner, Michael Scandling.


  1. I like your horizons-pictures! I also take pictures of horizons every time I am on the coastline. The play of colours and patterns are always fascinating.


  2. A fine shot, Michael. I had a similar conundrum with a shot taken over Lake Ontario a while back. It was taken at sunset with a wide angle lens so color and perspective were difficult to reproduce accurately. In the end, I just went with an interpretation that was pleasing rather than an accurate reproduction. Sometimes we just have to compromise on a file but I don;t see any such compromise here.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s good that you were able to salvage this photograph after five years. Who knows what ancient ancient images we’ll manage to recover with yet-to-be-improved software?

    I’ve faced—and probably anyone who’s been at it a while has faced—the dilemma you mentioned about lines that are approximately horizontal yet conflict with each other. Those of us who hand-hold the camera sometimes also have to deal with the actual error of a crooked picture. As you said, we make the tradeoffs we feel end up giving the best image.


    • Thanks, Steve. I must say that DxO software has given me the capability of saving the bacon many times. I’ve used it and LR and Photoshop’s Camera Raw extensively and I’ve long preferred DxO.

      Horizons can be vexing. There are quite a few on my website that are actually not leveled to “true” horizontal because the apparent horizon is visually stronger. The ones that are most challenging are the ones with several conflicting planes in one shot. What looks right in nature sometimes doesn’t when reduced to two dimensions.


  4. This is a great example of why photography gurus tell us to never delete files. There is always some new technique, whether recently created software or recently developed personal technique, that can take seeming trash and turn it into treasure.
    As far as straightening horizons goes, I almost always (99.9999%) shoot tripod mounted using a bubble level and often enough the horizon doesn’t look right for any number of reasons like the ones you list and, in the end, what looks good, or better, determines the final outcome. Lately, most of my days start with a solid cloud bank on the horizon and it’s hit or miss as to whether I will see any color.
    I am glad you held on to this and kept trying over the years until it now looks so peaceful and comforting.


  5. It’s great to revisit images with new eyes and more experience, Michael. I love the ethereal feel of this image. Beautifully done.


  6. Very ethereal scene Michael. It reminds me of a motion blur which softens the edges of a horizon shot. The muted colors are lovely and serene


  7. There is certainly nothing wrong with working with an image to make it suit you, your memory, your preference, etc. So beautiful! I like the idea of questioning whether this is a “place” and thinking about it as a specific place, even as it seems to meld into timelessness and “placelessness.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: There is a Place – AMAGA Photography Blog

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