Summer on the Big Sur Coast

Summer on the Big Sur Coast

Wildflowers at your feet, seagulls overhead, fog clinging to the coastal range, and surf crashing below make the Big Sur coast a national treasure

The drive from San Simeon to Carmel should take two hours or so. In fact it’s an all day affair because you find yourself yanking your car into every overlook to drink in yet another incredible view. Just when you think it can’t become any more beautiful, it does – and often exponentially so. It’s just incredible how the combination of the coastal mountains, fog clinging to the coast, sunlight dancing in and out, wildflowers blooming, dramatic cliffs, and often the road itself can make a million different images, all unique and equally beautiful.

Such is the Big Sur coast. There are other beautiful drives in the world and I’ve been able to experience many of them. This may not be the most beautiful stretch of road in the world, but I’d say it’s in anyone’s top ten. It’s that dramatic and beautiful.

We were nearing Carmel Highlands where we would be spending the next couple of days when I noticed wildflowers filling the fields between the Pacific Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean. I just couldn’t resist seeing what the actual coast would look like the few hundred yards away. So, my long-suffering wife patiently picked up her book and encouraged me to take a while to go scout and shoot what I saw. Have I mentioned how patient she is with my photography addiction?

Fortunately there were some well-worn paths through the vegetation leading to different vantage points along the cliffs. Apparently, this location is a fairly popular area for hikers and people walking their dogs. It’s not hard to imagine why. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to hike while soaking in the views.

Unfortunately, I was so engrossed with getting to the vistas I expected, I totally missed the abundance of poison oak that was embedded in the vegetation – and I was wearing shorts. I wouldn’t find out for a couple of days, but this would turn out to be a big problem. I’m allergic to poison oak and ivy and I acquired the worst case I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t mean a few spots that turned into a rash. I mean my calves and lower thighs were covered in a rash that ultimately scabbed over and itched like nothing I’ve ever felt. I went through an entire bottle of poison ivy gel just trying to keep the itch under control. It took a full two months for the rash to go away entirely!

But even with the future onset of a nasty case of poison oak, the hike out through the brush was worth it. I rarely have one of these moments, but when the trail ended at the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, the scene literally took my breath away. In front of me stretched an uninterrupted view of the ocean to the horizon, blue sky, a golden beach, beautiful blue water and white foam intersecting with the coast, and a steep cliff side covered with native vegetation and flowers. It’s a scene that I can envision clearly as I write this post. It was beautiful and I took a few minutes just to soak it all in.

Then, I got to work. I moved up and down the cliff-top trail looking for a vantage point that captured as many of the elements of the scene as possible while still retaining a sense of composition that would fulfill my artistic vision. I finally found it in this spot. The view is north toward Carmel and captures all of the elements I described above. Patience added a small flock of birds lazily riding the wind down the coast and into my frame. It was a perfect moment in time for a landscape photographer – minus the nasty rash to come. But, all in all, it was worth it. Hopefully, this image and my words bring you a bit closer to that beautiful place in the world that is the Big Sur coast. Enjoy.

Pfeiffer Beach Sand and Rocks

Pfeiffer Beach Sand and Rocks

The purple sands of Pfeiffer Beach accented with stones worn smooth by ocean waves

As we made our way up the Big Sur coast I had several landmarks that I wanted to visit. I’m a bit of a travel nerd and do some fairly exhaustive research before our trips. One place that I had read was particularly beautiful was Pfeiffer Beach. I had also read that it is not an easy location to access or, at least, that it was not well marked.

That turned out to be the case. If there was a marker for the turnoff to Pfeiffer Beach I don’t recall seeing it. When we stopped for a quick lunch to take to the beach, the restaurant attendant just told us to “turn left at the first paved road after the bridge”. We did, and we quickly saw what ‘inaccessible’ meant. There was a road to Pfeiffer Beach, but it was a narrow tree-lined lane that was impassable for two-way traffic in spots. The beach was crowded as well. Near the beginning of the two mile drive, there were attendants controlling the flow of traffic into and out of the park. It was obvious why once we made it to the parking lot. There are precious few parking spots and the locals really don’t want visitors to block their driveways or clog the tight road.

Once we parked and gathered my camera gear and our picnic lunch, we made our way out to the beach. Once we had cleared the parking lot, it quickly became apparent why this is such a popular spot. Pfeiffer Beach is a sheltered, sandy beach at the base of some dramatic cliffs protected on the ocean side by large rocks undercut with arches. It may not be a great beach for surfing but it’s protected enough to be a great place to stroll, throw or kick a ball, or just sit back and watch the world go by. The only negative I could see was that the wind whipped fine sand particles readily. In high winds it seems that the blowing sand would be more than just a nuisance.

As we wandered about, children splashed in tide pools, dogs ran freely on the wide beach, and many people just kicked back reading and relaxing. In certain places on the beach, we noticed that the golden brown sand was interspersed with purple and black sand. It was fairly obvious that the sand was formed from rock formations on the cliffs above that were being worn down by the constant wind and rain. After a bit of research I found that the purple sand is caused by manganese garnet deposits in the surrounding cliffs. Apparently as they erode they wash down from the cliffs and mix with the regular beach sand. The result is some pretty cool looking abstract images arrayed on the beach, especially in areas where tide pools interact with the purple deposits. The picture above is an example of what some of the beach looks like. Other large sections are just normal golden brown beach sand much like the other beautiful beaches of the Big Sur coast.

Pfeiffer Beach is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. Even with the crowded, cash-only parking lot, it’s still a beautiful place in this world. Enjoy.

McWay Falls

McWay Falls

McWay Falls empties directly into the Pacific Ocean along the Big Sur coast

I’ve seen much prettier images of McWay Falls, but this one isn’t bad. The scene I would have loved to capture would have been at sunrise or sunset with dramatic, pastel-colored skies instead of a contrasty, blue-sky day. But, when you only have one bite at the apple, you make do with what you have.

If you’ve never traveled up the Big Sur coast, a stop at McWay Falls is a must. The viewpoint is quite easy to access and the scene is impressive. Even with clear skies, the water color, waterfall spilling into the Pacific, and sheltered cove are a spectacular sight. Even though conditions weren’t perfect, I’m glad we stopped. Only a week or so later, fires burning down the mountainsides closed this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway for a few days. Even though I’m sure the landscape would benefit from it in the long-term, it would be a shame to see this area torched by a wildfire. Hopefully, this image conveys a fraction of the beauty of the region. Enjoy.

The Road to Big Sur

The Road to Big Sur

The last bit of straight road before hitting the bends and turns of the Pacific Coast Highway along the Big Sur coast

As we worked our way up the California coast, I was anxious to get to the twists and turns of CA-1 and the jaw-dropping views from high atop the cliffs of Big Sur. I had experienced the road a few times before and I was looking forward to seeing if it lived up to my high expectations.

Before we made it to the twisty bits, we came upon this view. Given my expectation of winding roads I hadn’t remembered this long straight stretch before we entered the coastal range. It was one of those “Wow! I’d better stop the car and capture this!” moments. I have quite a few of those as I’m out shooting. In fact, my favorite shots are often ones that I hadn’t visualized and catch me quite unawares.

So, I quickly pulled off the road, made a u-turn, and worked my way back to where I first saw the shot. I took a few different angles including these in the middle of the road. Fortunately, Pamela was there to act as my spotter. Otherwise I likely would have been so absorbed in taking the shot that I would have been struck by another photographer’s car as they soaked in the sights oblivious to my presence.

I love leading lines in my images. It doesn’t get much better than the yellow center stripe of a perfectly straight stretch of road with a scenic vista at the end. Hopefully, you will enjoy the image as well.

Setting Sun as Viewed from Moonstone Beach

Setting Sun as Viewed from Moonstone Beach

The setting sun descends into the Pacific over the rocks of Moonstone Beach

Although the sunset at Moonstone Beach was not as vibrant as I had hoped, it still turned out to be quite beautiful. The absence of clouds that could turn multi-hued pastel shades meant that all the rays of the setting sun could flood the beautiful California coastline. It’s magic hours like this that allow me to see at least one of the reasons California is called the Golden State. It certainly earned its nickname on this fine summer evening.

I had worked my way down the beach looking for vantage points and foregrounds that could showcase the setting sun and the rugged coastline. I finally settled on a rocky outcrop just off a local park where I could use the ocean as my foreground. I found this group of rocks that were absorbing the incoming tide where I could put the setting sun in the center of my frame.

I don’t normally like to put the most prominent feature of my images in the dead center of my composition. In this case, though, I wanted to feature many different elements including the ocean, the rocks, the graduated color of the sky and the distant hills descending into the Pacific. To do so, this was the composition that was the most pleasing to my eye. I used a relatively long shutter speed of 1/6 of a second to add some blur to the waves and introduce some sense of the action unfolding in front of me.

All in all, I love the image. I think it conveys a sense of the beautiful evening that I experienced. I hope the image conveys some of that sense to you as well. Enjoy.

Moonstone Beach at Sunset

Moonstone Beach at Sunset

Seagulls at rest and native vegetation on Moonstone Beach near sunset

I spent an evening on Moonstone Beach hoping for epic sunset conditions. I had hoped for some clouds in the sky that would turn to brilliant red, pink, and orange against the setting sun. Instead I got a cloudless sky. The benefit was that as the sun dropped toward the horizon everything turned golden. There were some pretty amazing shooting conditions for an hour or so.

I made several compositions, but this is one of my favorites. I’ve blown out the sun but it doesn’t take much imagination to visualize what it would have looked like. I managed to capture the backlit vegetation on the cliffs of Moonstone Beach and a flock of resting seagulls on the beach below. This image captures the feel of this part of the central California coast as well as anything else I shot on the trip. Enjoy.

Boardwalk, Wildflowers, and Ocean

Boardwalk, Wildflowers, and Ocean

A boardwalk and wildflowers on the Pacific coast at sunset

The central California coast is consistently beautiful. Around just about every turn in the road there is a new pretty sight to view. This shot was taken on a section of the coast with an extensive boardwalk that makes it easy to walk and take in the views. Add in a bit of wildflower creeping onto the boardwalk and some golden late afternoon light and, voilà, you have a magical image. Enjoy.

Coast Live Oak and Field at Sunset

Coast Live Oak and Field at Sunset

A Coast Live Oak in a recently cultivated field illuminated by the golden rays of the setting sun

Earlier this summer I had a business opportunity that Pamela and I decided to extend into a vacation and a chance to visit family. My business was in Irvine, CA for a couple of days. Since we were experiencing a bit of early empty nest syndrome with all three of our kids working or volunteering for the summer, we decided to drive on up the coast to visit family and to vacation for a few days.

I have two uncles who decided to move to California after World War Two. One of them passed away several years ago, but the other still lives in San Luis Obispo County. Two of his children who are closer to my age also live there. We’ve been able to visit them a few times over the last ten years or so. It’s always great fun to catch up with all of them. It’s a bonus that the central California coast is an absolutely spectacular beautiful spot in the world.

My cousins live on two adjoining properties located among farms and wineries. The views from all around their home are spectacular. One evening while we were visiting, the light on the surrounding properties turned spectacular. Obviously my attention must have drifted from the conversation to the photography potential outside and my cousin took pity on me. She asked if I wanted to be driven further up the road they live on to a higher elevation where I might catch the sunset. (Have I mentioned how cool my California family is?) I quickly accepted and this shot resulted.

The Coast Live Oak is found throughout much of central and northern California. It is often seen standing alone in a field much as it is depicted here. In the right light the trees are simply beautiful. I think this was the right light. Hopefully I’ve captured the beauty that I saw on the warm, summer evening in the Golden State. Enjoy.

Venice Rookery

Venice Rookery 2

One thing that has been on my bucket list for a while has been to shoot the bird migration at Sanibel Island and the Venice Rookery. Given the facts that I live in Georgia and those locations are only about a nine-hour drive south of my home I should have been before now. Unfortunately each time I’ve considered making the trip something else at work or in my family has become a bigger priority and I couldn’t make the trip.

This past January, however, my wife’s parents decided to spend a month on Casey Key and she really wanted to check in on them to make sure they were doing okay. We decided to combine our interests and visit them and also make a long weekend out of the trip. The plan was to spend a night with them and a couple of nights on Sanibel. I would get to shoot a bit, she could check in on her parents, and we would both get a break from the colder weather in Atlanta.

So, we made the drive and I was able to get up early one morning and visit the Venice Rookery. As it turned out, the rookery was only about twenty minutes away from where they were staying! I had a blast shooting with my new Nikon 300 f/2.8 and teleconverters. Getting close up shots of beautiful blue herons, great egrets, and other migratory birds was a blast. There’s something beautiful and elegant about a bird in flight or interacting with other birds.

Unfortunately the time on Sanibel was not to be. Virtually every hotel on Sanibel was sold out since we were booking last minute. We stayed in nearby Fort Myers Beach but the weather turned rainy and windy. On our last day we were going to at least drive the wildlife trail on our way back to Atlanta, but a flat tire took up all of our time we had allotted for that. Oh well, at least Sanibel and the migratory birds will be there next year. I’m already planning a trip…

Venice Rookery 1 Venice Rookery 3 Venice Rookery 4 Venice Rookery 5 Venice Rookery 6 Venice Rookery 7

Eyes on Miami

These Eyes

A beautiful mural of a boy’s eyes in the Wynwood Walls section of Miami

The Wynwood Walls district of Miami is an amazing place to wander around for a day as a photographer. The artwork is imaginative, colorful, and unique. The more I shoot the more I like vibrant colors and unique patterns. Wynwood Walls has those in abundance. Here are a few murals done in the same genre, and I must assume by the same artist, of faces of celebrities and even some of people I don’t recognize. It doesn’t diminish the quality of the art. These and many of the other murals there are simply beautiful.

Salvador Dali

A mural in the Wynwood Walls district of Miami depicting Salvador Dali

John and Yoko

John Lennon and Yoko Ono as depicted on a mural in the Wynwood Walls district of Miami