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Light Force - Pfeiffer State Beach, California | by PatrickSmithPhotography
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Light 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.)


Free wallpaper for over 100 of my images in 6 different screen sizes is now available!


See the 1200 pixel version!!






Canon 5D mark II

Canon 24-105L lens @105mm

1/10-sec. exposure @F14

ISO 100

No ND Grads (though when you are closer, inverted grads help with the bright water!)

No polarizer.

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop cs4

Small Slik Sprint mini II tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head



The Story



Even though Pfeiffer beach is a winding and vertically oriented 45 minute drive south of Monterey in Central California, there were about 20 photographers out here trying to capture this famous place during the Dec.-Jan. window when the sun streams through the opening at the best angle. So it is difficult to come up with an original view. But I noticed how all the other photographers had their tripods set up in more or less the same place. So I looked around for a different perspective. And after a bit of browsing on Flickr, I have yet to see a shot that intentionally uses a reflection on the glossy sand of low-tide. I'm sure there is something like this somewhere though. There are just too many people shooting this place. So I had to add something extra that may not be original but at least have it be as good as I can capture it.


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 woould get sucked through the hole and the light-beam effect would disappear. Also, big waves help add drama, especially at low tide when the water barely comes through. At high tide, it is like a water canon and those rocks are slippery so watch out!


Every once in a while during this extra low tide sunset, it would almost appear as though the light were striking the water, sending spray away from the impact point. So I waited for that moment. I chose to step back far behind the other photographers, to include some reflected light off the sand at low tide to add that extra element of interest.


I met some nice people on the two evenings I came here. It was clear so this is the best place to go when there is no drama in the sky. On both evenings, I was recognized by different people. It seems like this happens a lot lately, though I am hardly the celebrity type. Still, it is fun to talk photography and everything!


I have more unusual things from here that I'll show later. This is a great place to experiment.


The map shows the exact location.



Other stuff



My pictures are featured on the front page of the

state Government. of California website and the new Governor, Jerry Brown's website too. Have a look! It is Flash with my pics cut into layers for a 3-d slideshow. If you are into building apps, the State has opened up lots of data to the public, so check it out!






Google Earth


Simply the best way to scout out locations that there is. You can see sun angles and pre-visualize light under lots of different conditions. Sometimes you can actually pre-compose your shots! This has saved me many thousands of vertical feet of climbing by avoiding spots with blocked views etc.


Satellite imagery (choose 'National' for a local US region or use your fave website)


Tide charting and preditions: (chose your area in US, other countries have similar websites)


Wave Heights (I choose 'North Pacific from Global')

Or Here:


Photos of every inch of the California coastline from a small plane. Excellent for close in detailed views.


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Taken on January 21, 2011