From National Park land to downtown streetscapes, hillside perches to coastal lighthouses, HI USA hostels are located in some of the most beautiful settings Northern California has to offer. So perhaps it’s not surprising that so many staff members across our hostel network are talented (and prolific) artists: they’ve got a lot of inspiration to work with! And now they’re sharing they’re inspiration with you in our interview series, “Artists in Residence.” This edition: Jeff Parry, General Manager and resident photographer of life and the lighthouse at HI Pigeon Point.
From the time he took his first photograph of an outdoor diner near a pool in Palo Alto, Jeff Parry has been taking snaps of the wonders of natural life – whether it’s as small as the details on the petals of a flower, or as expansive as the magic and infinity of all the phenomena in the night sky.
“When I became a naturalist teacher at the Exploring New Horizons Outdoor School at Pigeon Point in ’97, I wanted to document all the wildlife I was seeing and took a lot of tide pool photos because I was trying to learn as much as I could [about photography].” He says of his beginnings.
Living at the lighthouse means that the tower serves as a muse and focal object for many of the photos that Jeff takes, but each image is unique with the moods of the ocean and the sky reflected in dreamy purples and pinks of twilight, or the silvery twinkle of the stars and moon. And as the Pigeon Point Lighthouse is quite the icon for visitors and locals of the nearby towns, a couple of his photographs have been featured in local sites around Pescadero and Santa Cruz.
You can see and score some wall art and paper prints of your own on Jeff’s website if you’d like a little slice of his heaven at home too.
How did you get started with photography?
My father, Stan Parry, has always been a big supporter, and he was and still is a pretty avid photographer, though he mostly photographs gothic cathedrals in France. He gave me my first camera, I can still remember, it was an analog single-lens reflex camera and I got it when I was nine. I took photography class in high school, and have done some workshops, but mostly I learned from my father and on my own.
What are some of your favorite things to photograph?
Living by the lighthouse, I mostly shoot seascapes and the shoreline. I like going to Año Nuevo State Reserve, and Santa Cruz is incredibly beautiful to photograph. Astrophotography is something I’ve been getting into, where you take pictures of elements in the sky, especially with the lighthouse in the foreground.
What is the lighthouse like as a subject, since it features in a lot of your work?
I’ve been working here for 19 years and have seen that the lighthouse means so many things to so many different people. It’s a symbol of hope on a desolate shore with its light. It’s an inspiration for lots of people, and living here means documenting it through different angles that people might not see when they just visit for a day. It’s very beautiful and it’s been a nice subject, though they removed the Fresnel lens, and I hope the California State Parks Foundation can repair the tower and return the Fresnel lens up there.
Do you have any pointers for budding photographers?
If you want more control, shoot in manual mode, otherwise auto mode will give you photos that are similar to others. In manual mode use a tripod – and if you don’t have one, get a beanbag or put your camera on your backpack or something to hold it steady. Photography is this engineering device and you have to learn about four different aspects: aperture, shutter speed, sensitivity of ISO [light sensitivity] and the focus. There are other little things, but when you don’t know what’s happening with those four things and you get a good shot, then you’re probably just lucky.
So is a lot of it about luck then?
Luck does have to do with some parts of it, but you need preparation for the chance to get lucky. Like looking at the weather for the clouds to be in the right place for sunrise or sunset photos, or just waking up on time. Also, people won’t hang around for the beautiful glow after the sunset when you can sometimes see more than you would otherwise.
What has been a favorite picture that you’ve taken?
Well, let’s see: several years ago now I put my camera on a kite and I used a fish-eye lens to get a 360 view from up there. Besides that, I’ve taken several shots during a meteor shower where I got the lighthouse, and the Milky Way Galaxy and a meteor going through.
What does it feel like when you get shots like that?
I’m somewhat amazed that it happens because you just have magical faith that it will. There have been nights when I’ve been out for hours and got nothing, so it feels great when you get it, but it’s also hours of preparation and work.
HI USA Tip: Stay at HI Pigeon Point so you can snap your own pics of the lighthouse and its gorgeous surroundings, then share them with us on the hostel’s Facebook page! You can see more of Jeff’s work on his photography page on Facebook, on his website, or on Instagram.