Waves

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.

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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.

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.

Folly Beach Pier Sunrise

Folly Beach Pier Sunrise

The pier at Folly Beach, South Carolina at sunrise

Deciding on sunrise locations is much easier than choosing sunset locations when in Charleston. Since the Atlantic is due east of Charleston you want to be somewhere where you can see the ocean. You don’t have to worry about distracting elements taking attention away from the main attraction – the rising sun.

So, when I visited Folly Beach at sunrise, what did I do? I put a distracting element in my image of the sunrise. And I like it.

I shot for a few minutes on the other side of the pier getting some colorful sky shots with interesting blurry ocean waves using long exposures. But, I quickly realized that those shots could have been taken anywhere there is a direct view from the beach of the rising, or for that matter, the setting sun.

I realized that the star of the show could be the pier itself. So, I found myself composing the pier into my shots in as many ways as possible. Given the length of the pier, any shot showing it in its entirety made the sun almost an afterthought in the image. Ultimately I compromised with a short section of the pier acting as a frame for the rising sun. The pier, its reflection in the wet sand, the ocean waves, the orange sky, and the sun itself make for a pleasing combination of elements. I really like the shot. I hope you do as well.