Ian Coggins Photography | Pfeiffer Beach Sunset

Pfeiffer Beach Sunset

December 31, 2013  •  1 Comment

Saying goodbye to 2013 with a sunset...

For many reasons, I didn't get to do much landscape photography during the year but I did get to spend some time learning new techniques. And swapping some of my camera gear around. And that turned out to be a very good reason to make a day trip down the coast of California to visit two locations that I'd been meaning to visit for a long time.

One spot was McWay falls, but I'm going to come back to this one later on because for me, the highlight was getting to witness the sunset from Pfeiffer Beach.

Pfeiffer Beach

For those that don't know, Pfeiffer beach is located near Big Sur and it is well known for a great natural rock formation with a keyhole opening in the middle that sits at an angle to the beach. The angle means that for a few weeks in December, the sun sets at such an angle that it shines directly through the keyhole. When the weather plays ball, it leads to some amazing sights and colors. This was my first time visiting this beach and I'm glad I finally made the trek.

I knew this location had been getting popular recently, and a recent fire had kept photographers away for the last few weeks, so I knew it was going to be a challenge to get parking and a spot to shoot from. For once I planned ahead well enough and got there early enough to park and find a good location.


The beach isn't that easy to find as it is not signposted from the highway, but helpfully the park service provides a nice map to those who make it so they know how they got there. Um... :) Nice looking sign though.

Welcome to Pfeiffer Beach signWelcome to Pfeiffer BeachThis cute little sign welcomes visitors to Pfeiffer Beach. With a helpful little map to show you where you are...

Since I was early, I used the time to figure out what lens and settings I'd need for when the show really started an hour or two later. And this is a taste of what I was rewarded with ...

Boiled by the sunBoiled by the sunThe sun's rays seem to be focused on one place and are causing the ocean to boil, in this shot taken at Pfeiffer Beach in December

I just love how in this shot the rays are tightly focused in the keyhole and it looks like they're boiling the ocean into a frenzy. Check out the purple rocks at the base of the formation as well. No Photoshop trickery here folks! They really are purple.  And they work perfectly with the gold beams shining through the opening.

As the sun set I tried a few different positions and timings to catch the wave action and changing moods. 

This one captured a much more 'violent' feel to it with the waves crashing onto the rocks. The longer exposure turns the water droplets into white streaks of motion...

Violent waves at Pfeiffer beach keyhole sunsetViolent waves at Pfeiffer beach keyhole sunsetCatching the waves breaking on the rocks, back-lit by the sunset through the Pfeiffer beach keyhole.


... whereas this one has a much calmer, soothing feel to it.

Warm sunbeamsWarm sunbeamsThis photo captures the warm, golden beams of light shining through the keyhole opening in the rock at Pfeiffer Beach, CA

I mentioned that this spot is getting pretty popular. Let me show you what I mean ;) Just before the sun set fully, I climbed up onto a low shelf in the rocks at the back of the beach and took this shot to show the small crowd ! 

Photographer frenzy at Pfeiffer beachPhotographer frenzy at Pfeiffer beachThis location, and the winter sunset, is getting more popular and now dozens of photographers (and tourists) arrive for the show. On peak days, there can be hundreds...

Secretly, I hadn't expected to get a great shot from back here, but all during the sunset I had been dying to get some shots with the new lens - but this lens was too 'long' to use up by the keyhole itself.

Stepping back and climbing up on the rocks (I'm fearless! Ha!) gave me the perfect chance to try out the new lens and I love how sharp and vibrant the shot came out. I thought this was going to be a throw away photo but turned out to be quite a cool shot I reckon !

It was amusing to actually be here. There was a fairly even split between those with tripods and fancy cameras, and those with phones and tablets - all taking (the same) photos. I'm happy to say that pretty much everyone was being respectful of each other and avoiding getting in the shot of anyone else.

Two guys even managed to setup time-lapse rigs and as far as I know, didn't have anyone messing up their shots! I'm looking forward to seeing their video when it's shared. The amusing thing though - the sun's arc into the horizon means that the rays move as the sun sets. They'll start off to one side, shift to the other, and then you get the bonus of the sun sinking into the ocean directly visible through the keyhole opening.

I heard someone commenting that it'd be hilarious to do a time-lapse video of the photographers and the tripods marching back and forth.  :)

Well that's 2013 over and I'm looking forward to a the new year and wondering where I'll wind up exploring next.

-- By Ian Coggins --


p young(non-registered)
beautiful shots!
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