Big Sur North Photos

Big Sur North – From Garrapata down to Pfeiffer Beach

This especially rugged coastline rises from the sea to over 5,000 ft. elevation just a few miles inland. This geography creates some outstanding seascapes of grand proportions and some interesting rock formations as well. This stretch of coastline extends from Garrapata State Park in the north to Pfeiffer Beach and Julia Pfeiffer Park.

Light Force - Pfeiffer State Beach, CaliforniaLight Force – Pfeiffer State Beach, California

Ocean waves, mist and light streamed through the portal in the Tafoni sandstone formation on a clear and warm January evening at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur. No HDR. (though at this place, it could help when pointing towards the sun in the portal.)

The light is especially good when it is sunny but with a bit of mist from the huge waves behind the rock wafting through the hole. On this evening, the slight breeze alternated between onshore and offshore. When it would blow offshore, the mist would get sucked through the hole and the light-beam effect would disappear. At high tide, it is like a water canon and those rocks are slippery so watch out!

 

Garrapata Surf #1 - Big Sur, CaliforniaGarrapata Surf #1- Garrapata State Beach, California

Large waves were rolling the cobblestones on the shoreline of Garrapata State Park, Big Sur, California. This was taken a few minutes before a similar photo I uploaded to Flickr earlier. This one has the wave striking the sea stacks instead of the cliff in front. No HDR

There was a big storm and fortunately it began to clear out right at sunset. The rocks made a lot of noise as they rolled around. It made me feel like the entire beach of rocks would slide right into the ocean, carrying me with it! Be careful on this beach because it is easy to break an ankle and it is not easy to get back up the cliff!

 

Portal of the Sun - Pfeiffer Beach, CaliforniaPortal of the Sun- Pfeiffer Beach, California

This sea arch opening in a cliff face at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur allows large waves to come through at high tide before a big storm. The waves often fill the entire portal to the top, and the portal becomes a giant water shotgun! The Tafoni formations in the rock are incredible and should be seen in person. The sun was only like this for about 30 seconds so I had to work fast.

Fortunately, the sunlight was dimmed by high clouds and low fog but there was still enough light to reflect onto the rock face from the cliff behind the camera. Usually, it is not possible to get this shot because the sun is WAY too bright.

 

Garrapata Surf #4 - Big Sur, CaliforniaGarrapata Surf #4 – Garrapata Beach, Big Sur, California

A winter storm whipped up large surf on Garrapata Beach. These rocks took a beating. As each wave broke, a bit of the deep blue color of the water was exposed for just a second. I tried to capture that along with the fresh ocean air. It was a warm day for December, perhaps 70 degrees F (21c) and the water felt unusually warm too for this time of year.

It was easy to just stand here and enjoy the water but the light was too good to miss!

Garrapata Surf #3 - Big Sur, CaliforniaGarrapata Surf #3 – Garrapata Beach, Big Sur, California

Similar to #4 but this view has water flowing in front of the rock for those who enjoy a little more action in their seascapes! The rest fo the description is the same as #4.

A winter storm whipped up large surf on Garrapata Beach. These rocks took a beating. As each wave broke, a bit of the deep blue color of the water was exposed for just a second. I tried to capture that along with the fresh ocean air. It was a warm day for December, perhaps 70 degrees F (21c) and the water felt unusually warm too for this time of year. It was easy to just stand here and enjoy the water but the light was too good to miss!

 

Labyrinthine Light - Pfeiffer State Beach, CaliforniaLabyrinthine Light – Pfeiffer State Beach, California

A sea cave near the main portal on Pfeiffer State Beach in Big Sur, California is also a great source of light during the winter at sunset. The sandstone and Tafoni rock formations have been sculpted into twisted formations while the waves have done their work to bore holes into the soft rock. It is as though the light was boring the hole on this evening as the sea mist drifted into the cave.

Everyone goes to see the main portal but this can be just as mysterious for a good landscape photograph.

 

Shores of Time - Big Sur, CaliforniaShores of Time – Garrapata State Beach, California

This little cove is one of many dozens of lesser-known and hard to reach places along the Big Sur coast. It is heavily guarded by steep cliffs, and lots of poison oak, which produces a bad skin rash to those that are allergic to the oils in the leaves and stems.

For me, long exposures work best when you have visually striking features that you wish to isolate and show off. So when I saw these colorful boulders and how they contrast with the sand and the different rock behind them, I knew to wait for the light to drop off so I could do a long exposure.

 

The Curl - Big Sur, CaliforniaThe Curl – Garrapata State Beach, California

I noticed the aquamarine-green color of the waves that appeared for just a fraction of a second in front of the dramatic sky. So I set up and waited until I had captured it just right.

Garrapata beach has the most incredible sand you can imagine. It has a coffee-ground texture with gold and brown mixed with pure white granite. The salty smell of this beach is not to be forgotten!

 

Garrapata Surf #7 - Garrapata State Park, Big Sur, CaliforniaGarrapata Surf #7 – Garrapata State Beach, California

This beach could keep my busy for a lifetime. It is difficult to capture the drama of this place because the waves break fast and furious. It is necessary to get into the water with the tripod and camera and brace for impact just after each exposure is made. Sometimes I have to shoot and run.

Seascape photography can be like a contact sport, literally. And it can be dangerous to both photographer and camera. I have deep respect for the power of the sea and never take it lightly. But I will still get as close as possible to capture the true nature of the sea.

 

Sunburst - Pfeiffer State Beach, CaliforniaSunburst – Pfeiffer State Beach, California

Just to the left of the well-known Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach arch/portal, there is a gap between two very large rock/cliff formations which allows water and sea mist to stream through. I saw this while everyone was over shooting the portal. Even in an iconic spot, look around for something new. No HDR, though it would be interesting to do it here.

As I mentioned before, even though Pfeiffer beach is a winding and vertically oriented 45 minute drive south of Monterey/Carmel in Central California. Here as with the portal, the trick was to wait for the sea mist to stream though when the breeze turned to come from the sea.

 

Garrapata Stacks - Big Sur, CaliforniaGarrapata Stacks – Garrapata State Park, California

These sea stacks are exposed to the direct fury of the sea and they constantly take a pounding, especially during the winter rainy season. Usually I like to capture the widest angle possible in a photograph, but these stacks make fine subjects in and of themselves.

I waited for the light to fill in behind them but still illuminate them in front with reflected light. Then I waited for the sea to calm down in order to show the color of the ocean that is exposed when the bubbles from the big waves rise to the surface.