An Afternoon at the Torrey Pines Gliderport

Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla near San Diego paraglider in flightCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II at 70mm, f/6.3 for 1/320s at ISO 100, circular polarizer

Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla near San Diego paraglider in flightCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II at 125mm, f/4.0 for 1/320s at ISO 100, circular polarizer

Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla near San Diego paraglider in flightCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II at 135mm, f/2.8 for 1/800s at ISO 100, circular polarizer


This past Sunday was a beautiful day; Nice mild conditions with blue skies and scattered clouds. Due to the favorable conditions, my wife and I decided to travel somewhere near the beach to enjoy the weather, so we headed down to the Torrey Pines Gliderport to catch some sun and enjoy the paragliders.

How to get this type of shot

For safety reasons, there is an area designated for pilots only which is adjacent to the take off and landing area. Therefore, close access to the paragliders is somewhat restricted. I ended up shooting most of my photos from a single location just outside of the restricted area (see below). This turned out well for the camera/lens combo I was shooting as almost all of my photos did not require much cropping.

Depending on the angle of the subject to the camera and the sun, the paragliders were slightly to severely backlit for most of the afternoon. Therefore, I chose to shoot some of the images with my Speedlite. So despite shooting fast action, I had to set my shutter speed to the maximum flash sync speed of my camera, 1/200s (High speed sync would have too greatly reduced my flash output). If I go into 100% pixel view, I can see some motion blur in the photos with slower shutter speeds, but IMO this beats having an underexposed subject or a totally overexposed background. Due to slow flash recycle times (I believe the Canon 600EX-RT has around a 4s recycle time after a full discharge) I had to be more selective with my shutter finger on some of my shots and could not merely tear off 6 fps. Despite being light on the trigger, I still ended up with around 220 exposures that afternoon.

Another challenge I had was during post processing. I used a circular polarizer to darken the sky and to reduce reflections from the wings. Depending on what direction I pointed my camera and what orientation I shot (landscape versus portrait) the degree of polarization varied from shot to shot. I attempted to even out the saturation and brightness of the sky as much as possible during post processing. Had I not shot with the polarizer, many of my shots would have been severely washed out by the 3pm sun, so despite the extra effort it caused, I felt it was worth it.

Torrey_Pines_La_Jolla_San_Diego_Paraglide_glider_gliderport_4Canon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II at 200mm, f/8 for 1/200s at ISO 100, circular polarizer

Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla near San Diego paraglider in flightCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II at 102mm, f/5.6 for 1/200s at ISO 100, circular polarizer

Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla near San Diego paraglider in flightCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II at 200mm, f/8 for 1/200s at ISO 100, circular polarizer

About 30 minutes into my shooting, Brian, one of the paragliders flying that day, asked me if I could take some photos of him in action. He must have seen me wielding one of Canon’s whites and pushing buttons and twirling all sorts of dials so he probably assumed I knew what I was doing (I can fake it pretty well). This was an excellent opportunity for me to take a photo journalistic approach to document Brian’s day paragliding (Above three shots). I tried to get photos of him during his prep phase, take-off and, most importantly, in mid-flight. I had a great time and hopefully Brian got some photos that he can proudly share. A win-win session for the both of us. He has since offered to take me “Behind the line” to the pilot prep area. I plan on taking him up on his offer in the future, and hopefully, I can get some better photos with the increased access next time.


Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla California (Coordinates: 32.890127,-117.251286)

As you can see I was very busy taking photos this weekend. Please stay tuned for another post tomorrow!


27 thoughts on “An Afternoon at the Torrey Pines Gliderport

  1. all your photos are brilliant…I’m sure Brian is happy to have the pics you took of him! I’ve read your third paragraph over a number to times trying to let the words sink in…I’ve a long way to go…

    • Heather, thank you for your continued interest in my blog. If you want to contact me about explaining some of the finer points I speak about in the paragraph you are referring too, please feel free. I always enjoy interacting and helping other photographers.

      • Mark…I visit your blog and a few others because the work I see is inspiring to someone like me who is a total beginner (began taking photos and my blog in Oct. 2012)…I feel I can eventually learn from what you do because you generously describe how you do it. I learn best from doing so while I may not figure it out right away on the first read, having something to go back to allows me to use the information while experimenting. Another great photographer I visit told me very few great photographers are born great, he said, even though I’m a beginner in taking photos, photography is something that I can be taught/learn and I should work at it, which I’m doing! Thank you for your kind offer of help, it is greatly appreciated…I will keep it in mind!

  2. Thanks again for the pics, Mark. And for posting them to your blog. It’s great to see the settings you used. I need to replace my micro four-thirds camera with something that gives me better lens options. I’ll be looking through your blog to see what your kit can do and what settings you use.

    • Thanks for stopping by Brian. It was a pleasure taking photos of you. Regarding the m4/3 system. It is no slouch, especially with the new sensors. The OM-D for example provides really fast AF (but probably not too great 3D tracking) and is light and compact. As for the lens options Panasonic currently offers a 12-35 f/2.8 lens which is very fast and supposed to be high quality. Other manufactures are starting to produce high quality glass for m4/3 also. And there is always the option of using the high quality Olympus 4/3 lenses via adapter. Also, if we meet up again at the gliderport, I can always let you play around with my camera.

      • I’ve been using a Lumix G2 for a couple years now. Like you say, it’s super light and I can hike for hours without feeling like I’m carrying a camera and a couple lenses. But I’m mainly interested in wildlife photography and need more zoom than my m4/3 gets me. I can buy a 300mm zoom, but there are no extenders for m4/3. I can use one with an adapter, but I’ll lose auto-focus which isn’t acceptable. An f2.8 lens is appealing, as is f/1.8 … but last I checked cost considerably more than a similar Canon or Nikon lens. So I can either invest further in m4/3 or (more likely) abandon it entirely. At this point I’m seriously leaning toward a Nikon D600.

      • The D600 is a fine camera from what I have read. However, speaking strictly in respect to focal length, your m4/3 with a 300mm lens will give you an effective 600mm focal length (in FF). If you go with the D600 you will have to get a 400mm lens with a 1.4x TC to match that. This is a much more expensive and heavy combo. Of course you will likely get superior AF and handling with the Nikon.

  3. Lovely set of images. I particularly like the last image. The latest Canon and Nikon 70-200 f2.8 lenses are superb. Used with cropped sensor cameras and teleconverters they are a great combination for photographers who like to shoot long – great quality and you don’t have to mortgage the house to get a prime 400 or 600mm.

  4. The colours in your pictures are awesome. I like the 5th photo the most, in which Brian is taking off and somebody is landing. It’s nice how the two paragliders form a double arch.

    • Thanks Agnes. I would like to take credit for the timing, but to be perfectly honest, it was purely accidental. I first noticed this when I got home an viewed my images. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good :)

      • “I don’t know if it’s really luck or if it’s just curiosity. I think the main ingredient, or a main ingredient for photography is curiosity. If you’re curious enough and if you get up in the morning and go out and take pictures, you’re likely to be more lucky than if you just stay at home.” – Elliott Erwitt

  5. Some nicely composed and carefully thought out exposure control to end up with some really good shots. It is nice to see that you finally got a chance to shoot at this location, with the right weather conditions. A few months back it was another photographers shot from Torrey Pines, that I shared, that caused us to open a discussion. I have let my webfinds blog fall dormant now, as I no longer have the time and energy to maintain it – in fact due to other demands I have even had trouble catching up on my favourite blogs like yours.

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