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Pacifica Light #1 - Pacifica Pier, California | by PatrickSmithPhotography
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Pacifica Light #1 - Pacifica Pier, California

Pacifica is a town just south of San Francisco that is notorious for having lots of fog due to the northwest-facing mountains behind the beaches. Even on a generally clear day like this particular day, I spotted a small fog bank on the satellite pictures from here to Half Moon Bay a few miles south. So I headed to this place. No HDR.


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Settings etc.:



Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 17-40 @ 17.5 (the edges at 17mm are a bit soft so I zoom in a bit)

1/40-second exposure @ F8 (to capture the glistening reflections of light on the sea)

2 0.9 (3-stop) Lee neutral density soft grad filters

(Lee is having production problems (can't keep up with demand) so Singh Ray makes good ones too.)

No polarizer

ISO 100

Small Slik tripod with Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol grip ball head

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop






The fog stretched from Half Moon Bay (my original destination) up to Pacifica. When it got too thick in Half Moon Bay, I headed north to the edge of the 5 mile wide fog bank. The edges of cloudy areas are where the best light is, so look out for it!


I usually like being right down on the beach when I shoot, but this higher than normal view shows off the glistening reflections of the sunset light. My usual 1/4-second exposure would soften the reflections and I wanted nearly-frozen detail for this one. This isn't about the motion of the closest wave but rather the texture of the water.


When you reach a destination, take a look around and see what you like best. Then go about capturing it. I had no intention of ending up at this pier but I headed for the light and this is what I saw. It is good to have a plan, but be ready to break it!


The map shows exactly where this is.






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)


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Taken on May 21, 2011