California's Central Coast: Pfeiffer State Beach

Wow, it's been a little while. Three months, in fact, since my last post. What happened was, I moved from Colorado to California and then I got really lazy about shooting, and editing, and writing. But now I'm back. I started exploring the Central Coast as I've learned it's called and I must say it is quite striking. It isn't the mountains and lakes that I'm used to but the ocean holds its own power and demands a new set of tricks to photograph. There is even a waterfall or two to chase if I'm feeling jumpy. This is definitely a challenge and I'm ready to embrace it and start working immediately.

Anyway, sometime in December when I was finally settled and ready to start branching out and shooting, I discovered a place call Pfeiffer State Beach. It is down in Big Sur and has a rock with an amazing arch carved out over the millenia by the waves. It just so happens too that there is a three or four week window around the winter solstice where the setting sun shines directly through this arch. I read about that, looked at my calendar and was pretty excited to see that I was discovering this just in time to try to take advantage.

Pfeiffer is a pretty small, secluded beach and the parking lot is equally small so if you're going to go for sunset make sure that you get there well in advance to make sure you can get a spot to park. Both of the times that I went, there was a ranger standing at the top of the road turning people back because the lot was full. Fortunately I had planned for this so I kept coming back every 10 minutes until they finally let me in. Just know and be prepared to have to wait for a spot to park.

You may have noticed that I said both of the times I went. This is because the first time the clouds didn't quite cooperate. We almost got the sun shining through the arch we were all waiting for (and by we I mean me and the 20 other photographers there waiting for it).

In the end though, the pieces didn't come together but I wasn't about to let this phase me. I wasn't going to drive an hour and a half just to turn around without trying to take advantage of what I had. You know what they say, "if life gives you a cloudy sunset, shoot black and white."

For the next week or so a storm settled in so there was rain and fog and clouds and I just decided not to bother with the drive. At some point though, I got sick of waiting. On a cloudy, rainy, foggy day in Monterey I decided to take the chance and drive down to Big Sur. I was going to shoot no matter what. If it meant a whole bunch more black and whites well then that's great because I love black and white. But, as I was getting farther down the coast I started to notice the clouds breaking a bit. The horizon was starting to clear just enough and I started to get excited. This time I got to my spot really early so I scouted around a bit and played with some new fun angles and really explored the space so that I was ready when sunset came. This is such a crucial step. You can have all the gear, know all the settings, have the perfect light, but there is nothing that compares to having been there before, or having gotten there early enough to really scout the shot you want.

Because I always have to know what it looks like in black and white too

As the sun started going down we began to get that amazing golder aura emanating through the keyhole just like the first time I went.

But, unlike the first time, we (and this time we was me and 2 other photographers, go figure) got what we were there for. The sun kept sinking, the sky kept cooperating, and boom the light poured directly through the arch.

Nature didn't stop there. I think she wanted to reward us for taking the chance. The three of us had made the drive, none of us optimistic of the outcome. Our perseverance paid off, which is another great lesson. You never know what mother nature has in store but if you don't get out of the house, you'll never find out. Enough babbling, we got an amazing prolonged sunset and took full advantage of the situation.

At the end of the day I am really excited to have found this spot and I'm already planning my trips back. There is so much to explore in this place and so many amazing photographs to be taken. I am also expanding around the Central Coast. I've made a few trips, and taken a couple photos and I'm planning a whole series of this amazing landscape. If you have any suggestions of places I should check out let me know if the comments below. Also, make sure to subscribe and catch the next installments.

Until the next time,


Camera: Nikon D3

Tripod: Manfroto 190X Pro 3 with 804 Mark 2 head

Lenses: Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8, ProOptic 14mm f2.8

If you're interested, some of these are available as prints HERE. If you don't see something or if you have questions about anything feel free to shoot me an EMAIL and I will be happy to help.

#BigSur #PfeifferBeach #PfeifferStateBeach #KeyholeArch #sunset #California #ocean #PacificOcean #blacksandbeach

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