The day proved to be a success on my weather prediction skills. I got into photography as a storm chaser in Oklahoma. This strange ocean and mountain weather in southern California confuses me, but I'm getting the hang of it.
In any case, to get a good dramatic sunset you need clouds to reflect those reds and purples. Generally, in California, that means changing weather. If there is not a weather system coming or going the skies are pretty much flat, blue, and boring. Furthermore, the problem I find in socal is that you'll have nice clouds inland, go to the beach, and either get complete gray out with fog or a low cloud ceiling or clear blue skies over the water. For a sunset like this, the clouds need to be over the water, high, and not so far into the horizon as too block those last warm rays of the day.
I saw the satellite images of the clouds that would be rolling in for the day and made a best guess as to where there might be good skies for the sunset. On this occasion, I guessed right, but twenty minutes before this sunset, I would have bet you a hundo that the sky was going to crap out, maybe warm up a tiny bit on the horizon, but ultimately just fade unspectacularly. Inland it's impossible to tell what the sky on the beach looks like, and from shore it's not a lot easier. Sometimes it's hard to see how far out the clouds go over the water, how low they become. All important things. Ultimately you just have to put yourself there and get lucky or try again another day.
Even though I had been goofing around on the rocks for two hours before sunset, I still managed to find myself scrambling to compose a shot when the sky lit up. The rocks were cascading at one angle, the waves were breaking at different angle, and the stratocumuli were at a different angle. It was hard to arrange the lines in an interesting and non confusing way. At the end of the day, I felt good about a lot of things, but I'm not positive that I didn't miss a better shot. There's always next time.
If you find yourself as I did, shelling out around $200 for a Lee Big Stopper ND filter and subsequently suffer enormous disappointment when all of your attempts at long exposures result in shots with amorphous magenta/pink blotches that are near impossible to color correct, just do what I didn't do and relax! There's a perfectly reasonable explanation!
Those pink/magenta blobs are caused by infrared light. It's common on some lesser quality filters of which I cannot attest to, but the reason you and I paid big bucks for the Lee brand was specifically for the lack of color casts.
In fact, Lee Big Stopper are designed to block IR light from getting through the lens. That means, if you are suffering from the blobs, then light is getting onto the sensor from somewhere else. The culprit on my photos was the viewfinder window. Once I closed it, I never had any more color casts. Some people have experienced light leakage from the focus window on the lens, so if you still have IR leaks after shutting the viewfinder, maybe try some gaffers tape over that area.
First roll of medium format Fuji Velvia.