In this episode of Photographing USA, we're visiting Pfeiffer Beach which is one of the most fascinating seascape locations in California which says a lot! Here I show my approach to this landscape.
MILKY WAY COMPOSITE TUTORIAL:
Pfeiffer Beach was one of the must-see locations on our journey and also a location, which requires a certain kind of weather at the right time of year to get the optimal experience. At Pfeiffer Beach, there’s a huge and fascinating rock formation with a keyhole, where the sun shines through during sunset. Dependent on the time of year the effect is more or less visible. In a short period, you’ll even be able to catch the sun directly through the keyhole and make a sun star.
Pfeiffer Beach is located in the Big Sur region of California and is a bit tricky to find since you will not see the sign with the name of the beach before you’ve turned off the Cabrillo highway. Coming from the north along the Cabrillo highway you’ll have to turn right down the Sycamore Canyon road, which is located around half a mile after the Big Sur Ranger Station. Just before the Sycamore Canyon road, there’s a turn-in on your left with some piles of gravel. After the right turn, you just follow the road all the way to the end. When you’ve parked the car you just follow the paths to the beach and you won’t miss the rock formation.
I had a few different ideas for this location, which both involved a golden hour picture and a night picture. For the golden hour picture, my goal was to get some water streaks as foreground, which leads the eye into the picture to the rock formation and the keyhole, where the sun hopefully would shine through. The main problem is just that the waves wash in from the sides, so to get the right direction of the waves requires a lot of patience. I stood in the water waiting for the right wave for a bit more than an hour. In regard to the light, I didn’t get the sunburst, but the sun made a beautiful sun streak in the water vapor from the waves. To get the sunburst or to get the sun streak in the water or on the ground you’ll have to catch a narrow window 1-2 weeks before and after the winter solstice.
The foreground changes from season to season and dependent on low-tide and high-tide you’ll get some different results. You also have to figure out how you’ll compose the picture when you’re there, should it be vertical or horizontal, should the main object – in this case, the rock formation – be in the upper or lower part of the picture and so on. You can’t always predict everything, so you’ll have to work with how the situation is at the given time. These are all things you need to take into account while securing your camera gear from the waves and trying to keep your tripod still.
Keeping the tripod from sliding during a long exposure, when a wave washes in can be a bit tricky. I get around it by pushing the tripod as long into the sand as possible, but that comes with the risk of filling your tripod with both sand, dust, and salt, which can really take its toll on the tripod. You’ll need a rather sturdy and good quality tripod for something like this to work.
For the night picture, I knew the Milky Way lined up perfectly with the rock formation, but sadly the time of year wasn’t optimal at all. The best part of the Milky Way was below the horizon and the moon was around half, so it lit up the entire sky, which made it hard to even see the Milky Way. I made a few long exposures, which turned out pretty good, but I knew exactly what I came for, so I worked around the problem in the editing phase by stitching the pictures I made this evening together with a better Milky Way picture I took a couple of weeks later in Death Valley.
In regard to the lens, I’d recommend a 16-35mm. I struggled a bit with my verticals, where I felt the lens wasn’t wide enough, but it turned out just perfect under my conditions, but that’s without being able to crop in post. For horizontals it was perfect. You might also want something which can zoom beyond the