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Big Sur - Portal of the Sun | by PatrickSmithPhotography
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Big Sur - Portal of the Sun

2009/06/03: This photo is a winner in the 2009 Nature's Best Ocean Views competition!


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The dim last light of a fading sun sets through a portal on California's Central Coast. No HDR. This photo was just selected as one of the top 10 images for the 2009 showcase portfolio for the North American Nature Photographer's Association!



Settings etc.:



Canon 5D

Canon 24-105L @ 105

1/6-second exposure @F8

LEE soft ND grad 0.9 inverted so that the dark part is over the water.

ISO 50

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop


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.


Backlighting off the cliff face behind the camera is crucial here; otherwise you have an overexposed portal with no detail on the rock face. Once the light was right, I waited for the water flow to become dramatic. A short exposure time allowed a little movement while retaining detail of the sea spray.


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Taken on December 10, 2006