Landscapes Big Sur
Growing up in the Carolina's meant the importance of the outdoors was imprinted in me early. This deep love for nature was the very first motivation for me to pursue photography. Exploring areas around the mountains of North Carolina I would find places of beauty that seemed to be calling to me. At the time I was too young to understand the why and meaning of this. Later in life I would learn those beautiful places that called to me were wanting to be 'captured' and their beauty shared.
There is a great thrill from searching and exploring for that beautiful spot and waiting for or even finding the light. You begin your search months before, researching beauty's favorite spots. Then the hunt continues in person, and not just discovering beauty but showing it through your eyes. The high volume of landscape work today makes this more and more difficult, but the challenge makes the capture of a unique piece of beauty that much more thrilling.
Thirty years ago just being in a remote location with a view camera was enough to make unique and captivating images. Now with the easy access to pro equipment and the attractiveness of capturing one of those images, photographers are pushed like never before to become more artistic and ultimately is a good thing for the medium. Every day millions of images are created, just being there is no longer enough.
This challenge is something I relish and makes the art form of landscape photography one that has uniquely evolved in both creative pressure and competition. Two factors that ultimately can have amazing results.
Radiating a burning orange, falling rain catches the last bits of light from a retreating sun. The outflow of a swell meanders through a colony of the infamous Pacific Rocky Coast.
I had to position myself in a pretty precarious situation on a very narrow ledge to get this panoramic image. A dreary afternoon was just the mood I was looking for to capture some of the wild winter beauty. Here you get a good idea of the rainbow of colors the rocky coast cast can harbor.
Despite the docile and calm appearance of this scene, there is a reason why there is no plant life on these rocks. In the winter massive swells come through and eradicate any thing unlucky enough to make the attempt on these forbidding dark ridges. The red reflection in the lagoon reflects its cauldron like state during those events.
With the cloud line hovering a few hundred feet onshore I went to a spot I had scouted before. In the distance between the gap you see the very top of Pico Blanco burning red from a setting sun. The water in this panoramic is what fascinates me, its movement that can be seen even in static form.
After a big storm came through, the higher elevations still harbored clouds playing at just the right height with the setting sun. I went out and up to get this view of a normally white Pico Blanco glowing pink while there was still green grass everywhere.
I felt blessed to be a witness to this particular solar descent. Only a few days a year do you have a tide as low as this one, then add in a tremendous sunset and an untouched beach and you have an event that maybe happens once a decade.
This is from my very first session of going out and shooting in Big Sur. Like a tourist I chose a spot showing “The Greatest Meeting of Land and Sea”. While the clouds hanging over the water was plenty for my visual expectations, I was amazed when a faint rainbow made a brief appearance before fading with the last bits of sunlight.
A spring low tide reveals a textured carpet of green waiting for the life giving Pacific to return. I was able to approach and get set up without disturbing the seagulls which are a significant component of this image.
This is a composite of a single wave and its progression of impacts along this rock face. Clouds on the horizon had blocked most of the sun light during the golden hour and when it had peeked through the waves hadn’t been their biggest. As the sun hit the last open spot before being swallowed by the horizon, a huge swell started rising just off the shelf and the two timed together just right for this sequence.
One of the most popular spots in Big Sur for photographers is the Cali Lilly valley. I attempted to get to this 3 previous times, turned away each time by the sheer number of other photographers. One day though rain showers kept the crowds away and I had the valley all to my self with the bonus production value of flowers adorned with rain beads.
The sand pedestal on top of this rock was amazing in that something this small and delicate could survive a rushing stream carving away all that surrounds it. Pristine flat sand, and hidden boulders hide a finely ground black bottomed creek rarely seen.
A couple of reasons why I love this shot, first the eeriness amplified by a large ghost wave breaking on the right side in the distance. Second the fact that these boulders are rarely seen at all. A very large swell came in and swept away about 10 ft of sand, exposing these boulders for a few days before they were covered again.
Fog in Big Sur is a life blood for the ecosystem and one that added a beautiful component to this scene. A brief parting of the fog and simultaneous retreat would reveal a lone tree atop a ridge in just the right location. Its appearance was brief and was quickly concealed again by the fog.
One of the most iconic points in Big Sur is the Point Sur Lighthouse. These two tracks complimenting the horizon and fog line are from the herd of cattle that graze here. Then they play off of the perpendicular lines of sunset. If you look closely the light of the lighthouse was captured to show the light that has saved thousands.
Shelves of the rocky coast are great places to get very close to the pounding ocean and also make for great reflection pools. On this day a sea fountain was being created with the right wave conditions. I waited til the last bits of light would provide enough illumination for a fast shutter speed to freeze the water at its highest point while still being golden. If you look closely you see a sea gull silhouetted as it perches on a rock in the distance.
A windy misty morning provided amazing conditions, nice back lighting accented the mist as it climbed from the ocean and was driven up the coastal slopes. These native grasses caught this backlight nicely and shone in vibrancy with these conditions. This shot was inspired by the work of Eyvind Earle, one of my favorite illustrators.
The infamous purple sand of Pfieffer Beach can be elusive at times. However on this day after a big swell came through and with just the right tide it showed itself in all its glory. Dark clouds over the water augment the mood and a retreating wave enhance the lavender vibrancy.
Rolling green hills and clouds exploding with color, this is a quintessential highland sunset in Big Sur. After a storm that lasted a few days the clearing occurred around sunset which meant I had to go to one of my spots I had scouted before to try and take advantage of the conditions. After a scramble to get myself in position in time I was treated with this amazing show.
Many canyons in Big Sur bear the scars of fire and this hidden canyon is no different. Here fields of clover cover recent burns and are not long from entirely covering reminders such as this log that burned so hot it is still ashen white. A shell of a redwood with a window burned in it harbors redwood sprouts at its base behind this at the edge of the clover.
The minute details of a landscape can sometimes be grandious in their own way. This tiny world was a winter’s swell that got stranded 20 feet above the ocean. Slowly over the months evaporation without replenishment created this stunning canyon of salt.
A scramble down a crumbling cliff lead to the oceans edge, on a day when the ocean resembled a turbulent river rather than a raging ocean. The soft water playing among the rocks is gentle and nurturing, yet the barren rocks on the left tell a tale of harsher times.
Winter storms in Big Sur are treacherous and must be respected. I found a spot though that allows me to get very, very close to some big waves yet be fairly protected. Despite this, I still did not spend much time in this location given that the ocean will throw surprises at you all the time, especially if you think you’ve got it figured out.
On a cliff in Big Sur there sits a small space covered with these tiny flowers for a few weeks a year. I wanted to show these beautiful little ones with the amazing view they enjoy.
Peeking below an extending cloud level and dancing above the fog line the sun casts its golden light briefly on this dramatic section of California coast.
Low tide reveals the amazing color and life that is normally cloaked by water. A bright green anemone is sheltered amongst a colony of tide dwellers.
These Lupine’s reminded me of a forest in how they stood independently yet also as a group. Then they flow down the mountain descending to the ocean as though they changed into a river.
Up above a headland section of Big Sur a field of California Poppies has already closed themselves for the night. Yet two long stemmed purple flowers dance in the wind providing a beautiful movement to the image.
Sometimes in the spring the highlands of Big Sur explode with expanses of Lupines. I waited a couple of years to get the right conditions for this shot because spring blooms in Big Sur are not a guarantee. This swelling ridge reminded me of a big wave sweeping in, instead of water crashing the wave is suspended with color. In the distance a wall of clouds adds an ominous feeling.
A myriad of Sea Caves dot the Big Sur region, here I found a spot above the cave as the water flowed out of it. I like how the clouds and water seem to reflect the same motion.
An exceptional low tide revealed elements that are elusive subject matter, such as this clump of sea grass gracefully dancing with the waves.
I wanted to show a more intimate and gentle interaction along the rocky shore. This ‘canyon’ is lined with sea palms awaiting their life blood of oxygenated water. I waited until the wave was just about to break so it’s color would be the most intense.
This moment of impact took a couple of hours before I got the one I felt was the best I could get before an incoming tide forced my retreat.
Simply incredible conditions lead to what you see here. The mistiest morning I have yet to experience here in tandem with massive ocean swells and buffering winds were spawning these giant clouds as they rose over the coastal mountain range.
There are spots in Big Sur where if the tides and swell are right big waves will get thrusted up and hang for a moment before falling back to their origin. This is one of those spots with the right conditions during the infamous ‘Golden Hour’ photographers clamber for. A fast shutter speed, patience and timing resulted in this final image.
This cascading stream lined with algae is a vibrant reminder of the life that flourishes at these transition zones.
This trough along the north coast reveals a feature that can only be seen under the lowest of tides. A purple line shows just how low the tide is as water rushes to fill this void.
For a couple of years I waited for the right conditions to capture this view of the south coast of Big Sur. Perched above Middle Cove I composed this 10 image panoramic showing a dynamic south coast scene. The tall peak on the far ridge is Cone Peak.
Highway One is one of the more iconic aspects of Big Sur, I wanted to focus on this aspect of the landscape. I chose to shoot under a moonless night so that the land illuminated brightest was that by the headlights of traveling cars. The star trails mirror the congested traffic seen on the Highway now. The structure on the highway is one of the only rock sheds in North America.
As the half moon was setting it burned a brilliant red, I waited until the moon looked like one angry eye on the horizon. I then staggered the stars to create the broken star trails.
Using a setting moon and the first blooms of spring the landscape of Big Sur can be more intense under the dark sky of night.
A lot of the times marine fog makes shooting from Hurricane Point impossible, on this night however fortune was on my side. Other than a few moments of surging clouds, the line stayed just below my position. A few peeks permitted the view of being hundreds of feet over the ocean. These optimal conditions are one of the reasons why Big Sur is so special, floating above the clouds dancing above the ocean while the stars glide beyond.
An epic coast illuminated by a setting moon pairs with stars drifting overhead. Still visible are traces of Highway One as it winds its way down south along this dangerous coast..
One of the lunar eclipses from 2015 shows the entire stage all the way to sunrise. The moody blue hue contrasts with the ‘golden road’ laid down by a setting moon.
This lunar eclipse was from 2014 shot in the highlands of Big Sur as a marine fog layer made coastal access irrelevant. Since it was a longer eclipse I did not set a certain time frame between captures, instead I used my instincts to give the sequence a little more free form.
The lighthouse at Point Sur is one of the most photographed aspects of Big Sur. For over a 150 years it has shone through the fog alerting those at see of the danger. Above the fog the galaxy glows ever so lightly similarly as to how the lighthouse would shine through the fog.
A crescent moon lined up perfectly as it sets with the Milky Way. Despite the moon being very thin, its exposure with the Galaxy made it appear to be almost full minus a small portion. A golden path leads from the shore to unite with the Galaxy.
The fog in Big Sur has a dynamic all its own sometimes completely socking in the coast. Yet the highlands rise above the seemingly breathing secondary ocean of clouds to unveil a star filled galactic sky. The shadow on the fog comes from the rising moon behind camera as it climbs above the mountains.
The constant onslaught of the ocean on a defiant land in relatively recent history has had a profound impact on the topography of Big Sur. This visible resistance to the ocean of time, and desire to exist is one of the more moving aspects of this place. I composed this image so the Galaxy is at the edge to add this tension while also providing a glimpse of the greater beyond.
As twilight approaches the Galaxy dances with the last vestiges of color from the sun. The headlands of the south coast crumble into the ocean leaving many obstacles and opportunities to churn the Pacific and give it the soft cloud like appearance.